With the Triple-A season at an end and Billy Butler on the outs, the Oakland Athletics promoted third baseman Renato Nunez and first baseman Matt Olson to the major league roster today. We'll discuss Olson later this afternoon; here's the scoop on Nunez.
Nunez was a high-dollar signing, inked for $2,200,000 out of Venezuela in 2010. He was signed for his power potential and he's manifested that consistently, hitting 19 homers in Low-A in 2013, 29 homers in High-A in 2014, and 18 homers in an injury-shortened 2015 season in Double-A. I was impressed with him entering 2016, as noted in the Baseball Prospect Book:
Renato Nunez, 3B, Oakland Athletics
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-1 WT: 185 DOB: April 4, 1994
2011: Grade C; 2012: Grade C; 2013: Grade C+; 2014: Grade B-; 2015: Grade B
A hamstring injury cost Renato Nunez much of the 2015 season, but when healthy he hit very well, mashing 18 homers in the Texas League. He recovered in time to play in the Arizona Fall League and kept hitting, batting .296/.333/.493. His overall production at Midland was a solid wRC+ 124, in line with past performances. However, you will notice the sharp reduction in strikeouts over the last three seasons, his strikeout rate declining from 25% to 20% to 16% despite more difficult competition each season. He’s cut the strikeouts without sacrificing power, an excellent sign for his future. I like where he is going with the bat. Defense is another matter. He made progress in 2014 but his glove took a step back last year. He has the arm for third but his footwork comes and goes, his range is just adequate, and his error rate remains too high. He spent some time at first base last year and ultimately may wind up there. Despite the glove issue, the combination of lower strikeouts with no loss of power is a big positive, so we will go up to Grade B+.
What about 2016?
Nunez continued to mash for power this year, hitting 23 homers in 123 games for Triple-A Nashville. However, the positive trend in his strikeout numbers did not carry forward, his whiff rate spiking back up to 21.6%. Overall he hit just .228/.278/.412 for the Sounds, with 31 walks and 119 strikeouts in 505 at-bats. Despite the home runs, his wRC+ declined sharply to an anemic 78.
His defense remains troublesome, too; his error rates haven't improved at all and his range remains marginal. He spent some time in left field with indifferent results but ultimately his best position may be first base, making it harder to fit him in the lineup.
Like Texas League sources in 2015 and Cal League sources in 2014, PCL observers in 2016 praised Nunez's power, particularly to the pull side. He'll crush any mistake pitch, particularly misplaced fastballs. On the other hand, Triple-A pitchers were able to exploit his aggressiveness and he gets in trouble when he tries to pull pitches outside the strike zone. He showed signs of closing this hole in '14 and '15 but the problem re-emerged against more advanced pitchers this year.
Nunez is still just 22. He makes quite an impression when he's going well and he has shown the ability to adapt and learn before. He needs more time in Triple-A and it remains to be seen how he fits into Oakland's roster plans long-term, but he could still make an impact down the line. Gradewise, he is still somewhere in the B-range despite his difficulties this year.