The Tigers signed Nunez out of the Dominican Republic in May 2007, and he quickly started hitting for the DSL Tigers that season. In 64 games as a 19-year old rookie, Nunez hit .284 with ten doubles, three triples, and 42 runs batted in. The raw infielder also managed to swipe nine bases, but was thrown out seven times as well.
Given his relatively advanced age, the Tigers opted to bring him stateside in time for the 2008 season. After starting the year in extended spring training, Nunez was assigned to High-A Lakeland in June because of some injuries on the LFT roster. Bouncing between Lakeland and the Gulf Coast League for the remainder of the season, Nunez struggled at the plate but showed signs of life and an ability to be a solid middle infielder.
A more appropriate assignment was given to Nunez to start the 2009 season, as the Tigers sent him to West Michigan in the Midwest League. With the entire team off to a roaring start, Nunez followed suit with a .284 average in the season's first month, while also swiping twelve bags to date
Nunez is a classic speedy, slick fielding, light hitting middle infielder, and he's developing that skill set into something that could be useful as he moves up the ladder. Nunez has plus speed both on the bases and in the field. His instincts are still rough on the base paths, but he has begun to get better reads and jumps off of pitchers. Nunez's speed plays well in the field, as he has good range to both sides. His hands are excellent and he fields balls cleanly in all situations. He has a strong arm and good footwork that helps him avoid throwing errors and simple mistakes.
At the plate, Nunez is an outstanding drag bunter and his speed allows him to leg out base hits easily. He gets down the line in a hurry from both sides of the plate, and he can wreak havoc on the defense's plans. When not bunting, he is more of a slap hitter that uses the entire field to his advantage. He doesn't have much power though he can turn on pitches and get them into the gaps and down the line for extra bases on occasion. Nunez will need to make more solid contact and improve his pitch recognition skills to truly become an asset at the plate long term.
With his defensive abilities and speed, Nunez will get opportunities to continue advancing himself as a middle infielder. If he refines his ability to get on base through other means, he could become a useful complimentary part, likely in a utility role.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP SLG A
Nunez has yet to sustain any significant or lingering injuries. For speed players it is always about the health of their legs, and thus far, Gustavo has had little or no trouble with his hamstrings or any other part of his legs. That is a good sign for someone whose entire value is caught up in his ability to run and move in the field.
The Tigers are likely to have Nunez spend the entire 2009 season in West Michigan in hopes that he can establish himself and improve on his instincts and feel for the game. The ‘Caps are off to a roaring start and this should be a good opportunity to for him to be part of a winning atmosphere that embodies the fun the game can be.
If Nunez settles in throughout this season as a guy with the ability to hit for average, get on base, and swipe bases, all while playing solid defense, he could become an organizational favorite. He has played some second base already in the fall instructional league, and that experience could come in handy as he continues to move up. There's a significant gap between what Nunez provides now and what he will need to provide in order to reach the big leagues, but at worst he could be a solid minor league infielder in the mold of Juan Francia.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.