Name: Renato Nunez
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 220
How Acquired: Signed as an international amateur free agent in 2010
Leg injuries cut into Renato Nunez’s 2015 season, but the third baseman was on the field enough to show significant improvement over his 2014 campaign. Are the big leagues within reach for Nunez in 2016?
Since signing with the Oakland A’s to a $2.2 million bonus in 2010, Nunez has carried with him significant expectations. Thus far, he has done a good job meeting most of those expectations, especially as a hitter. Nunez has moved steadily up the A’s farm system and is poised to make a run at a major-league debut in 2016.
In 2014, Nunez gained national recognition when he slugged 29 homeruns and drove-in 96 for the High-A Stockton Ports. While Nunez’s power was impressive, he struck out 113 times and walked only 34 times. He set out to improve his contact rate in 2015.
Renato Nunez Stats
Nunez was added to the A’s 40-man roster before the 2015 season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He only got 16 at-bats in big league camp – picking up three hits – before going down to minor league camp. Nunez was set to start the year on the Double-A Midland RockHounds’ roster, but a calf injury shut him down with about a week to go in camp. He would miss the first month of the regular season rehabbing the injury.
Once Nunez was activated, he reported to Double-A Midland, where he would spend the entire season. He hit only .214/.333/.316 in May, but scouts who saw him on a daily basis felt he was swinging the bat well and just not getting any results to show for it. Those results started to come in June, when he hit .278/.295/.537. He really hit his stride after the Texas League All-Star break, hitting .314/.353/.537 in 175 at-bats. A hamstring injury cost Nunez two weeks in August and a chance to break the 20-homerun plateau. He still finished with 18 in 93 games and a .480 SLG.
While the slugging percentage was impressive, Nunez’s contact rate improvement was the most intriguing part of his season. In 2014, Nunez struck-out in 20.1% of his at-bats. In 2015, he cut that down to 15.9% despite facing more advanced pitching. He also increased his walk rate from 6% to 6.7%. Nunez’s batting average remained virtually the same from 2014 to 2015 (.279 vs. .278), but that was more of a function of a dip in BABIP. With better luck on balls in play, Nunez looks poised to threaten the .300 mark in 2016. His BABIP in 2015 (.295) was the lowest of his career. Nunez hit .296 with an 826 OPS during the Arizona Fall League, which included a three-homer game.
Video of Renato Nunez taking batting practice (video by Bill Seals)
Nunez is arguably the best pure hitter in the A’s system. He has the quickest wrists in the system and a clean swing that is short to the ball but generates a lot of power. He tends to pull the ball when going deep but has shown the ability to go the other way for base-hits. He is a smart hitter who is able to recognize his own weaknesses and work to improve them. Nunez, a right-handed hitter, has always hit left-handed pitching extremely well. He will likely never be a big walk guy, but Nunez has improved his pitch recognition significantly, laying off off-speed pitches outside of the strike-zone much more frequently.
“For Renato, the talent has always been there to be a complete hitter, but while advancing through the system pretty quickly and always being young for the levels, he reached the Texas League this year and was able to make significant adjustments,” A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said. “To really shave that strike-out number down, to gradually bring up that walk rate and to still be a force at the plate, it bodes well for his future. He is only going to get better as a hitter. He is probably, in our system today, the player that has the best chance of hitting for high average while doing major damage at the plate.”
Defensively, Nunez has also improved year-after-year, although his bat is still well ahead of his glove. At his best, Nunez probably won’t win any Gold Gloves at third, but he has a chance to be passable at the position. He has a strong arm and decent hands, although his movements aren’t always fluid. He saw some time at first base last season for the first time in his career, and that position could be an option for Nunez down-the-road.
“Renato made positive strides at third base. He was able to improve his range and he was more sure-handed in the field,” Owens said. “That is still going to be a work-in-progress. His hitting is still ahead of his defense, but he made positive strides in that area, as well.”
Despite being in his sixth professional season, Nunez is still just 21 (he turns 22 in April). The 2015 season was the first time Nunez has had any significant injury issues and both injuries were of the fluke variety. A healthy 2016 season should give Nunez a strong opportunity to make his major-league debut in September. He is entering his second option season, so the A’s will likely want to start evaluating him at the big league level later this year. He will start the year in Triple-A.