The Cardinals were constrained in the July 2 International signing period this year, by dint of being in the penalty phase for exceeding their assigned bonus pool last year. (Which, speaking of, I really need to examine the class the Cardinals actually signed, and try to tease out whether it was worth going over for those particular players or not. One of these days I’ll get around to that.) That means they couldn’t sign any player for more than $300,000, and they also lost a chunk of international pool money for signing Greg Holland along with the draft pick they surrendered. Now, since they were limited in the amount they could give any one player, that lost pool money isn’t really a big deal — certainly not as frustrating a loss as the draft pick — but it’s not nothing, and worth noting.
However, in spite of the limitations placed on them, the Cardinals did manage to sign one really intriguing player this year, a Cuban third baseman by the name of Malcom Nunez. Now, first off, I would like to invite Malcom to change the spelling of his name, because as things stand now it’s going to be a real pain in the ass to type his name a couple dozen times while both remembering to omit the second L, and also remember to ignore the spell check trying to get me to change it. It would be like someone with the name Natan signing with the club. Yeah, I get that it’s your name, and it probably has personal significance and maybe cultural cache, but never forget you’re mildly inconveniencing me, Malcom.
Anyhow, personal appeals aside, I have to cop to the fact that the international amateur market is not, in general, at all my thing. I pay an inordinate amount of attention to the amateur draft, as I’m sure you all know, but scouting the sixteen year olds in the Dominican is just not something I can put much energy into. I don’t have the contacts, I can’t get the video, and I just generally don’t have enough access to feel comfortable trying to scout that market.
However, once a player is in the system, I will of course do all I can to scout him, and in the particular case of Malcom Nunez, we have some really excellent video from Baseball America, shot by Ben Badler, that I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention, and do a little scouting on. We also have some remarkably intriguing numbers early on from Nunez, and so at the very least he would seem to be worth a brief scouting report.
First, the numbers. Nunez was born in March of 2001, which means that yes, he is almost a full year younger than Nolan Gorman, the also-extremely-young first round pick of the Cardinals this year who plays third base and is making the Appalachian League look just a little too easy. Of course, the fact Nunez is playing in the Dominican League right now is a reflection of that youth, and should also serve as a very strong reminder not to put too much stock in the stats he’s putting up this season. However, he is currently posting a 208 wRC+, so while we shouldn’t really pay too very much attention to what he’s doing, we should also probably acknowledge that what he is doing is laying waste to his league.
Of all the numbers, though, there are really two that I think are worth paying attention to, even with huge caveats all over the place. Those numbers are 16.4 and 14.8, and they represent Nunez’s walk and strikeout rates, respectively. We’re obviously talking about a tiny sample — just over 60 plate appearances — but Nunez had the reputation coming into the signing period of an advanced plate approach for someone so young, and the early returns seem to suggest that’s accurate.
It’s interesting because over the past couple years, the Cardinals have seemed to place a premium on players with well above-average plate discipline in their scouting efforts, with players like Brady Whalen, Delvin Perez, Dylan Carlson, and Gorman himself all featuring very patient approaches at the plate. Nunez is obviously in a different boat than those players, coming from Cuba as a non-drafted free agent, but he would appear to have some of the same characteristics. Perhaps the best comparison would actually be Carlos Soto, the Mexican catching prospect the Cards signed a couple years ago and who is currently running a 16.5% walk rate at Johnson City. Again, the numbers don’t mean much yet, but it’s still exciting to see a seventeen year old running those kinds of plate discipline numbers right out of the gate.
Now, more importantly, let’s take a look at the video. Thanks to Mr. Badler, we’ve got a solid five minutes of footage, both hitting and fielding.
via Baseball America:
Okay, let’s start with the glovework. Fielding drills obviously don’t reveal a whole lot about the overall quality of a player’s defense, but what we can immediately see here is a very strong arm, probably a 60, maybe a 65 when he really opens it up if I’m being generous. It’s also a very true carry on the throws; Nunez throws from the same arm slot almost every time, and gets up on top to throw, rather than slinging the ball from a lower slot like so many young infielders want to. I’m not a fan of the sidearm throw from third base, a la Troy Glaus, just because it creates so much tail on the ball. Shortstops have to be able to make throws from all angles, due to being on the run so often when they throw, but third basemen I believe should be more consistent in setting their feet and working from the higher arm slot. It’s a long throw all the way across, and funky arm angles can cause the ball to miss the target by a large amount.
As for the hands, there isn’t enough here for me to really tell. We’re talking about just a few minutes of fielding drills, obviously, and there’s only so much you can tell at practice speeds on a back field somewhere. Thus, I’m going to withhold much judgment on the glove for now, because I just can’t tell. He looks quick enough in short bursts to play third effectively, I think, but doesn’t look rangy enough for up the middle work.
Moving on, the body is obviously fairly mature for a seventeen year old, with clear strength already present, and a good base. Strong legs, in particular. It’s always tough to tell in a jersey, but he looks like the torso might be a little soft, which I would bet improves once he gets into a professional system and (hopefully) on a pro-style nutrition plan. He’s listed at 5’11” and 205, which looks about right to me, and that’s probably ultimately around where he should play. Maybe more like 210, but I could see him both adding muscle and trimming down a little simultaneously once he’s in the system and on a program.
Now, for the really useful part of the video: the swing. I wasn’t particularly excited about Nunez when the Cardinals first signed him, but I have to say that having watched him swing a bat, I am now officially intrigued.
It’s a swing built to put balls in the air, and it’s a swing that should generate plenty of power as well. There’s a little Josh Donaldson in the hand load and leg kick, though Nunez’s doesn’t feature as extreme a coil in his swing. He’s not yet gotten any pro-level coaching, either, so what he’s doing with his swing currently is less tempered and cultivated, as well, but even for all that it’s a very intriguing swing. I worry there’s a little extra head movement going on that I might try to get him to tone down slightly, but that’s not present on every swing, and it’s not so much as to represent a potentially fatal flaw even when it is there.
I can’t really speak to Nunez’s foot speed or overall athleticism, as I haven’t really seen much of him beyond this video here. Those are question marks for now, and only time will really offer us much of an answer. What I can tell you, however, is that a kid with as much natural strength as Nunez appears to possess, with a swing built as powerfully as his, is definitely worth taking a chance on. If I were coaching him, I would probably try to get him to go full-on Donaldson with his leg kick, encouraging him to get the leg up and the knee back a little more, allowing him to explode forward more efficiently by engaging his lower half more than he is now. I think he has substantial power upside, and the strike zone judgment appears to be fairly advanced for a kid who hasn’t even reached his eighteenth birthday yet.
In the end, it’s obviously far too early to try and draw any concrete conclusions about what kind of player Nunez is going to turn out to be down the road. However, he has natural strength, a big arm, and an intriguing swing. That’s about the best you can hope for for 300K these days.