After getting off to a hot start in the month of April, Beloit third baseman Renato Nunez is into the "adjustment" phase of his first season with a full-season Oakland A's affiliate.
Nunez, who had grown accustomed to playing in the warm climates of his native Venezuela and in Arizona for rookie league ball, was perhaps the best hitter in the Snappers' lineup during a frigid opening month of the season.
But the book is out on Nunez, as opposing teams have had a look around the league, and now it's his turn to respond to seeing an increased arsenal of off-speed pitches.
"It's gone really well, I feel pretty good and am playing well," said Nunez, who signed with the A's for $2.2 million in 2010, a bonus that ranks second only to the one fellow Beloit teammate Michael Ynoa received in 2008.
"I'm making my adjustments, because the pitchers are throwing me a lot of curveballs. I'm adjusting to that. They still throw fastballs, but when you hit one ball good they start throwing something else. That's when you have to make adjustments. They know I can hit fastballs, so I'm seeing a lot more curveballs. I'm learning to hit those."
Nunez had a decent professional debut in 2011, but his approach at the plate was extremely raw as evidenced by his 42:6 K:BB ratio. Despite those struggles, Nunez showed enough potential to go to the States for the fall Instructional League and be brought back for spring training and the 2012 regular season.
He showed vast improvement both offensively and defensively in the Arizona Rookie League last year, posting impressive offensive numbers (.325/.403/.550 in 160 at-bats) while improving his defense at third base.
His improvement has carried over into this season with Beloit. Although currently mired in a 2-for-21 slump (through Wednesday), Nunez has posted respectable numbers through the first seven weeks of this season. His nine homers and 27 RBI lead the team, and Nunez has posted a slash line of .262/.331/.503 through 38 games. His K:BB rate of 45:13 is slightly better than in his initial season, but still leaves much room for improvement.
Most notably, Nunez's power numbers have risen much quicker than expected. His previous season high was five, which he posted over a 53-game stretch with the A's Dominican Summer League team in 2011. But the nine he's hit in 145 Midwest League at-bats is just the beginning of much bigger things.
"Six or seven of those nine are balls that have been hit and didn't have that crisp sound like a home run usually does," said Beloit manager Ryan Christensen.
"I know there's even more power potential that we haven't seen yet. When he gets that sweet spot to the ball more consistently, he's really going to put up some power numbers. The power is there and that's what the A's really like about him. He's going to continue to grow."
Christensen said the power tool isn't the only thing he has been impressed with in Nunez's approach at the plate.
"To make the jump from the Arizona League to this league is a big one," he said. "You're going from seeing high school guys, to all of a sudden seeing the guys who graduated from short-season that were Friday night starters in college. Seeing them every single night and not be over-matched and compete is tough."
On the other hand, Nunez's defense continues to be a work-in-progress. The A's organization has made it clear it would like him to remain at third base, so the 19-year old is doing what it takes to show he belongs at the position.
"They want me to play third base and don't want to change me," Nunez said. "I want to play third base. They've told me to keep getting better at third base and move my legs and my feet.
"I prepared for that in the off-season. I did a lot of lifting and focused on strengthening my legs, because that's what you need to play third base. Now I'm here and ready to play every day."
Nunez has spent extra time with Snappers' coach Casey Myers, especially during home stands, to improve on the intricacies of playing third.
"He understands his weak link right now is playing defense, so he's been working on getting his feet quicker," Christensen said. "Casey has been working on his approach to pitches, in order to get a better jump. I've got no complaints with his work ethic.
"We've asked him to do a few things and work with it consistently, especially at home with the early work. He's had some good plays in games that show his potential. The main thing right now is the consistency of it every day and then it's staying healthy. We appreciate him going out there and battling through a bum ankle."