Name: Renato Nunez
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 200
How Acquired: Signed as an international amateur free agent on July 2, 2010
Coming into the 2014 season, the expectations were high for what the powerful bat of Renato Nunez could produce in the hitter-friendly California League. Nunez – and his bat – did not disappoint. Now the biggest question surrounding Nunez going into 2015 is whether he can continue to refine his approach at the plate to produce similar results at the higher levels.
High expectations have followed Nunez for most of his baseball career. The native of Valencia, Venezuela, was one of the best amateur baseball players in Venezuela when he signed with the Oakland A’s on July 2, 2010. Nunez signed for a reported $2.2 million, which was the second-largest signing bonus the A’s had ever given to an international amateur free agent (Michael Ynoa’s bonus in 2008 was the highest).
Nunez made his professional debut in 2011 in the Dominican Summer League. He immediately showed why the A’s were so high on him. In 53 games in the pitcher-friendly league, Nunez hit .268/.301/.407 with five homers. He then came to the US for the A’s fall Instructional League and had a strong camp.
The next season, the A’s brought Nunez to the US for the entire year. During the Arizona Rookie League season, Nunez was part of an AZL A’s team that finished with the best regular season record in the league. Nunez was a big part of that team’s success, posting a .325/.403/.550 mark in 42 games. He hit four homers and drove-in 42.
The A’s were so encouraged by what they saw from Nunez in 2012 that they skipped him up to Low-A Beloit for the 2013 season. He got off to a red-hot start with the Snappers, posting a 971 OPS in April. He had a strong May, as well, and a decent June, but Nunez struggled in July and August. His first half slashline was .278/.327/.496, but his second-half line was .238/.277/.354. On the year, Nunez had a .258/.301/.423 line with 19 homers and 85 RBI.
Nunez admitted that he wore down physically during the second half of his first full regular season. He also may have been pressing to reach the 20-homer plateau during the month of August, which was his worst month at the plate. Nunez came into 2014 determined to be better prepared to make it through a 142-game schedule.
The 2014 season was almost a complete reversal for Nunez from his 2013 campaign. He got off to a relatively pedestrian start with the Stockton Ports, posting OPSs of 731 and 755 in April and May. However, Nunez got hot in June (1191 OPS) and July (963 OPS) before finishing in August with his poorest month (709 OPS). He finished the year with a .279/.336/.517 line. He hit 29 homers and drove-in 96. Nunez also played in the MLB All-Star Futures Game, where he had a hit in two at-bats.
"Renato has probably the purest swing of anyone in the organization at this point." - Oakland A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens
Nunez made several improvements offensively from 2013 to 2014. His K-rate dropped 5% while his walk-rate increased nearly a full percent. He also increased his outfield flyball rate by 8% while maintaining a solid 16.4% line-drive rate. This off-season, Nunez made his rookie debut in the Venezuelan Winter League. He hit .281/.368/.458 with four homers in 96 at-bats. Nunez struck-out a lot (28), but he increased his walk rate (11) and showed plenty of power in a league with veteran pitching.
Former Oakland A’s minor league hitting coordinator and current A’s assistant hitting coach Marcus Jensen said that Nunez has an improved understanding of the strike-zone and a better approach, but that he still has a tendency to deviate from that approach from time-to-time.
“He has some electric hands and some tools and power,” Jensen said. “The growth of young hitters is understanding your approach and being disciplined enough to maintain your approach. I have preached to these guys that the biggest battle between the hitter and the pitcher is who can remain more disciplined. It becomes a challenge at times, especially as you want to maintain that aggressiveness. Sometimes in the process of being aggressive, you become over-aggressive and lose your approach.
“That’s part of the growth with him: understanding the strike-zone and understanding how pitchers are going to pitch him and the variety of breaking balls and things that they are going to do to try to get him off-balance. Can he remain disciplined enough to stay within his approach and not chase outside the zone? That will be the keys for him.”
From a talent perspective, Nunez may have the highest ceiling of any hitter in the A’s system.
“Renato has probably the purest swing of anyone in the organization at this point, just from a balance and aesthetics perspective,” Oakland A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. “He has just a pretty swing.”
In 2014, Nunez’s pitch recognition improved, and he showed he was just as capable of hitting fastballs as he was of hitting off-speed pitches. However, he was still vulnerable to over-swinging in situations where he was pressing for a big hit. His OPS with runners in scoring position was 707 (versus 853 overall and 944 with the bases empty). If he can maintain a more even-keeled approach at the plate in pressure situations, Nunez’s numbers could take off in future years. Although power is his best tool, Nunez is also capable of hitting for average. He has those quick wrists that Jensen mentioned, a good feel for the barrel and the ability to go the other way when the situation calls for it. Nunez dominated left-handed pitching last season, posting a 1037 OPS.
In both 2013 and 2014, Nunez’s numbers during the final few weeks of the season fell off when he was one homerun short of a milestone number (in 2013, it was 20 homeruns; in 2014, it was 30 homeruns). Nunez’s ability to focus more on the day-to-day and less on his stat sheet should improve as he matures. He won’t turn 21 until the first week of April.
Defensively, Nunez is still a work-in-progress at third base. His consistency on the routine play improved considerably from 2013 to 2014. With Beloit, he committed 40 errors in 114 games. With the Ports, he cut the error total to 15 in 88 games. Nunez has a strong throwing arm, but his footwork and his ability to read the ball off the bat at third are still inconsistent. The A’s will give Nunez more time to prove that he can handle the position, but Nunez could ultimately wind-up a first baseman. His bat will play at either position, but, of course, he would be more valuable as a third baseman. The A’s could also try Nunez in a corner outfield spot.
Nunez was added to the A’s 40-man roster this off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. The 2015 season will be his first of three option years. Nunez should spend the season at the Double-A level, putting him right on-track to be big-league ready before his options expire, assuming he continues to improve as he did last year. If he reaches his ceiling in the big leagues, Nunez could be a middle-of-the-order force for many years.