After signing just months before his 19th birthday in 2007, Nunez has made quick work of the Tigers system. During his debut summer in the Dominican Summer League, Nunez posted a .284/.370/.350 line, and actually drove in 42 runs hitting at the top of the DSL lineup.
After a successful debut, the Tigers were eager to bring Nunez stateside for the 2008 season, and after starting the year in extended spring training, he showed some impressive tools while playing at two different levels. Though his performance in the GCL was poor statistically, the tools were evident. When promoted to High-A Lakeland out of necessity, Nunez responded with a .245/.304/.272 line in 45 games. Still statistically uninspiring, many coaches were impressed with his poise against far more developed and advanced competition.
With a chance to assign him to a level more appropriate for his developmental pace, the Tigers sent Nunez to the Midwest League for the 2009 season, and he excelled beyond any expectations. In 112 games for the Whitecaps, Nunez hit .315 and swiped 45 bases. The lone hiccup in his 2009 season saw Nunez suspended from the team for conduct reasons.
Nunez has participated in the Tigers Fall Instructional League the last two years, and it has helped him refined his skills and approach to the game dramatically.
There are multiple tools that stand out when Nunez is on the field, highlighted by his blazing speed. He is one of the organization's fastest straight line runners, though he still hasn't learned the finer points of base stealing, and must improve his instincts and reads. Nunez's speed also plays well in the field, as he has exceptional range to both sides. His hands are soft and his arm ranges from above-average to plus, depending on which scout you speak with. Most scouts consider him a potential premium defender.
In the box, Nunez has the ability to hit for average, though he has a tendency to struggle with good fastballs, particularly on the inner third. Generally, he adjusts to pitches well and can make contact easily. He works the ball from pole to pole, and though he lacks any significant power at the plate, his speed allows him to take extra bases from time to time.
The one flaw in Nunez's game may ultimately be what keeps him from realizing his potential as a big league shortstop. There are character concerns, epitomized by his mid-season suspension in West Michigan. Nunez has a bit of a bad boy image, and unless he begins to approach the game in a more professional manner – mainly away from the field – he may short circuit his potential.
The range of final products Nunez could become is quite wide, including that of a slick fielding utility player in the mold of Ramon Santiago, or a high average, high energy player like Rafael Furcal.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% R
Nunez has been healthy throughout his three professional seasons. Given how critical his legs are to his game, he will need to maintain health and strength in the lower half. If he is able to do that, there is a strong likelihood that at a minimum, Nunez can carve out niche as a slick fielding speedster.
The Tigers invited Nunez to big league spring training, and some have speculated that the Tigers motivation went beyond just his talent. There are many that believe the decision to bring Nunez to the big league locker room this spring centers more on showing him what it takes to be a Major Leaguer, and presenting to him what may lie ahead if he stays on track.
After his stint in Major League spring training, Nunez will head back to minor league camp with a slim chance at the Erie roster, and a much more likely destination of Lakeland and the Florida State League. Nunez will have to continue proving he can hit the more advanced pitching and better fastballs at higher levels. As it stands, Nunez could be as little as two years away from the big leagues if everything comes together.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.