Nunez was signed by the Tigers as a 19-year old in May of 2007, just in time to make his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League that summer. Though it was his first exposure to pro ball, Nunez showed pretty well, hitting .284 in 64 games as the everyday shortstop.
Quickly brought stateside by the Tigers, Nunez saw his first action in the US in the Gulf Coast League in 2008, playing in just 13 games before injuries at higher levels forced him all the way to High-A Lakeland. He was overwhelmed offensively, hitting just .245 with little secondary skills, but his defense stood out and started getting him noticed.
The Tigers moved him down a level in 2009, assigned him to West Michigan for the entire season. Starting at shortstop for 112 games, Nunez was the Midwest League MVP with a .315/.360/.425 line. He popped 16 doubles and ten triples, while also stealing 45 bases.
Moving up to Lakeland in 2010, Nunez got off to a rough start and just never dug himself out of the hole he was in. He pressed all year and only managed a .222/.263/.281 line while striking out at a much higher rate. Despite his poor offense, Nunez remained in the lineup every day because of his stellar defense.
Nunez is an absolutely brilliant defensive shortstop, earning 70-grades for his glove as a matter of routine. Scouts love his actions at the position. He has exceptional first step quickness, with 80-grade speed that gives him plus-plus range to both sides. He is aggressive charging the ball and also reads the ball exceptionally well. His arm is a plus tool that can work in any situation at shortstop.
Nunez has absolutely zero power and he lacks the strength or projection in his body to change that. When he doesn't try to do too much with the ball, and simply focuses on putting it in play, he can make contact at a decent rate, earning some hits from his incredible speed. He will never better than a below-average to fringe-average hitter, but some scouts believe he could hit .250-.260 in the big leagues with a few walks.
He is still learning how to use his speed in base stealing situations, but he made great strides in reading pitchers last year and he could be a truly elite weapon when he is on the bases. Scouts noted sub-3.80 times on him from home to first, giving him no doubt, crazy 80-grade speed. If he can get on base enough, he could steal 40+ bases a year easily.
Nunez was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team while with West Michigan in 2009, but the issue has not re-surfaced. He walks the line between confident and cocky, and people within the organization indicate he is starting to understand how his attitude and effort can truly impact his play on the field.
Of all the scouts I spoke with that saw Nunez in 2010, every one of them turned him in as a future big leaguer, despite his offensive struggles. His glove, arm, and speed are all plus tools or better. He could be an excellent defense-first utility player with some potential to play shortstop every day for a team that is willing to overlook his offensive shortcomings.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Nunez hasn't really had any injuries in his professional career. He has suffered some minor bumps and bruises, but nothing that has truly kept him out of the lineup for any significant amount of time.
There is considerable debate within the organization as to whether or not he should be pushed to Double-A, and it will likely come down to just as many factors outside of Nunez's control as it will his actual play on the field this spring.
His defense is ready for the challenge right now, but his offense clearly is not. The question then becomes whether or not another year or part of one in High-A will allow his bat to develop further. If the organization concludes that the bat is unlikely to come along, he could go to Erie. The Tigers gave them some Double-A insurance with the signing of Argenis Diaz to a minor league contract, so they are not in a position where they have to move Nunez up.
With his defensive abilities, Nunez could be just a phone call from the big leagues, whether he's hitting or not, but his ultimate ETA for the big leagues is more likely late 2012 in a backup role.
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