Nashville Sounds’ slugger Renato Nunez has always been known for his power, and this year he’s taking it to a new level.
He was the first minor leaguer to hit the 30 home run plateau this year when he slugged a solo blast Aug. 6 at Reno.
“It was the first time of my career that I hit 30,” he said with a slight grin Saturday afternoon. “That’s good.”
His previous high came in 2014 for High-A Stockton, where he clubbed 29 blasts. On Sunday, he extended his career-best with his 31st homer in a loss to the Memphis RedBirds.
This year’s feat earned Nunez an invitation to both the Pacific Coast League All-Star game, where he was named the game’s MVP, and the festivities’ Home Run Derby. In addition, his .543 slugging percentage is a career best, and his 855 OPS is his highest since he played just 42 games in Rookie ball in 2012.
The 6’1”, 215 lbs. right-handed hitter was signed by the Oakland Athletics as an international free agent in 2010 and he has quickly risen through the ranks of the A’s franchise. Nunez made his major league debut on Sept. 12 of last year. The 23-year-old went just 2-15 in nine games for the big club, for a slashline of .133/.133/.267, but he said it was a valuable experience for his mental approach.
“I didn’t play that much, but I think it helped me a lot,” said Nunez, who came into the season as Oakland’s number six prospect, according to OaklandClubhouse. “I was literally working out and working on my swing, my defense, everything. I think sometimes when you don’t play but you’re working a lot it helps you focus and visualize a lot of good things – I think that helps you a lot. I just worked on my swing. I watched videos. I hit off the machine a lot.”
Now in his second year at Nashville, Nunez’s big league experience helped him adjust his approach to the game. Those adjustments can be seen with the improvement with his slashline of .228/.278/.412 from last year to a slashline of .253/.313/.543 through Sunday.
“I’ve been more relaxed and just trying to hit the ball the right way,” he said. “Just put the barrel on the ball and not try to do too much. I think I struggled at times last year because I was trying to do too much in every at-bat and I was striking out a lot and hitting fly balls.
“I’m also getting more walks this year. We’ve all got good swings because that’s why we’re here, but a lot of it is plate discipline and the pitch you swing at and the mental approach you get…in a long season, that is what is going to help you. This is my second year here, so I’ve got to make the adjustment, and that’s what I am doing right now…every day I come to the field and do my work and try to help the team.”
There’s no doubt Nunez’s bat belongs in the lineup, but finding him a place to play in the field has been a matter of discussion within the organization. Primarily a third baseman, he has also played some first base, but he’s blocked at both positions in Oakland by Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, respectively, so he’s been learning to play left field.
“I played a little bit of left field in winter ball last year because of the A’s – they called and told me [to work on it],” he said. “Now I’ve been playing it here a lot, and I like it…I like third base, too, so whatever it takes to be up there. All my career, I’ve been playing third a lot, so I guess third base would be my favorite, but I’m good at left field – and I like left field, so I don’t mind.”
Nunez said he feels he’s made the adjustment fairly easily.
“I think when you go from infield to outfield it’s a little bit easier than going from outfield to infield, so going to left, I just try to catch the ball and that’s it,” he said.
And he’s done all this without being able to concentrate on baseball fully due to the political and economic turmoil in his native Venezuela. In fact, he grimaced a bit when asked about the conditions in his home country.
“Everything is bad right now in Venezuela. We’re here,” he said in reference to himself and teammate and fellow Venezuelan Franklin Barreto, “and all of our families are over there…and right now, every time we go into the clubhouse and watch the phone, everything is bad news about how they put somebody in jail or they killed somebody.”
Barreto, the A’s top prospect, agreed.
“It’s bad,” Barreto said with Nunez acting as his translator. “There’s no food; sometimes when we’re there and there’s no medicine. We’re over here working and we’re trying to help people over there however we can.”
Both Nunez and Barreto wear bracelets which include the colors of the Venezuelan flag and say ‘Venezuela’ on them.
“We always have that in the backs of our minds, so sometimes it’s tough to be playing, but what else can I do?” Nunez said. “We’re here working and we try to help with everything we can help the country. I talk to [my family] and they say it’s all the same – ‘we literally cannot go out of the house because it’s dangerous’; that’s how bad it is right now.”
One can’t help to feel sorry for the young man and the conditions in Venezuela, but one also can’t help but to respect how he continues to improve despite the worries in his home country, and you can be sure to see him in Oakland again after the rosters expand in September.
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