Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Better Know a Prospect: Eduardo Nunez

Eduardo Nunez
Born: 15 June 1987 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Height/Weight: 6'0"/150 pounds
Signed: 2004, amateur free agent

2010 Statistics
Scranton W-B (AAA) - .289/.340/.381, 25 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 23 SB
New York Yankees (MLB) - .286/.333/.429, 1 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 1 SB

For the first four years of Nunez's professional career, the only consistent aspect of Nunez's performance was his ability to frustrate or dazzle the team, without much in between. Defensively, Nunez displayed impressive range and a cannon arm, combined with questionable footwork and a propensity for simple miscues. For every highlight reel play he made, it seemed, he'd muff an easy grounder or overthrow the first baseman. Offensively, he has fantastic speed on the basepaths and a high-contact approach, yet poor baserunning instincts and a weak bat. Considering his youth and tools, however, there existed a fair amount of optimism in his future.

Over the past two years, Nunez has progressed considerably. In the field, scouts noted that his footwork improved a bit in 2009, and that he seemed to be focusing a bit more on positioning himself (though he remained an unpolished product). This year, he appears to have put it all together - he's making far fewer errors without sacrificing range, a conclusion supported by both scouts and defensive metrics. In fact, Baseball America named Nunez the best defensive shortstop in the International League, while also crediting him with the best infield arm.

At the plate, Nunez remains a bit too impatient, taking a walk in only 5.2% of his plate appearances. However, he's hitting more line drives and more ground balls (which allows him to maximize his speed), resulting in more hits. Further, he's been successful on 82.7% of his stolen base attempts this year, as compared to a career rate of 72.5%. While he's unlikely to ever be much with the bat, he should hit well enough to be a passable starter (assuming his defensive improvements are for real).

Nunez's time with the Yankees isn't substantial enough to draw many conclusions from - particularly as he's played most of his innings at third base (where he struggled in the minors). However, I'm encouraged by the fact that he's seeing more pitches at this level than ever before - a respectable walk rate would increase his value significantly.

In the end, Nunez's value for the Yankees is somewhat questionable. I see his ceiling as Omar Vizquel. That is, Omar Vizquel post-35. Think .270/.330/.360, 25 SB, and plus defense at short - an incredibly useful player, to be sure ... for the Yankees, however, I'm not so sure.

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