photo: Malcolm Nunez (Jesse Sanchez/MLB/Twitter)
FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 continues into the top 10 with a July 2nd signing who immediately followed with a historically dominating 44-game professional introduction.
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Link to Malcom Nuñez’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Selected 2018 stats
TCN Scouting Grade: 7, Risk: high (click here to review scales)
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (8): Malcom Nuñez rocketed up the prospect vote this year all the way to #8 in the community vote. PugsleyAddams believes Nuñez to be the Cardinals’ best prospect of all, picking him at #1, however, Nuñez received a more substantial support beginning at #7.
PugsleyAddams justified his early vote believing that the Cardinals have an absolute freak of nature on their hands with Nuñez. Cardinals27 said that Nuñez makes hard contact, hits for a high average, and plays good defense. Stlcard25 said that usually the big bats in the Dominican League are older, like Brian Sanchez a few years ago, whereas Nuñez is just 17 years old, i.e. league appropriate.
Robert Reed said that Nuñez was initially contacted by the Cardinals back when he was just 14 years old and a rapport was established, which explains the relative pittance for which he signed ($300k). Reed also posted that his favorite Nuñez fact – Malcom hit more home runs in his 164 at-bats than the combined total of the two Royals Dominican Summer League teams, leading to a 238 wRC+ on the year. Grenadier1 remarked that he loves the high leg kick that Nuñez swings with as he seems to barrel up everything he swings at. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (10): The Cardinals may very well have their next phenom hitting prospect.
Superlatives aside, Nuñez, who signed with the Cardinals for a $300,000 bonus in July, made the most of his month and a half in his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League.
The 17-year old hit five home runs in a six-game span in the DSL and helped drive his team to the Cardinals’ first ever berth in that league’s playoffs. Along the way, he hit .415/.497/.774 and won the DSL Triple Crown with 13 home runs and 59 RBI.
“He has advanced hitting ability,” Cardinals director of international operations Luis Morales said. “He is not just a one-dimensional player who has the raw power. He has strength. He’ll hit for power. But he always understands the strike zone, especially for a hitter that young to have that recognition. He looks like a professional hitter up there.
“That is something that definitely interested us a lot. His advanced hitting ability was something that was very impressive for us.”
As the Cardinals have pushed to have a greater presence in Cuba recently, they have deployed scouts at tournaments wherever Cuba’s national team has played. That includes potential future signings of teenagers.
The Cardinals had ample reports on Nuñez, who they viewed as one of the best available bats in the 2018 July 2 international signing period. Area scout Alix Martinez and supervisor Angel Ovalles oversaw the evaluation and recruitment of Nuñez.
At those tournaments, the Cardinals liked Nuñez’ strong track of performance, as he stood out for his advanced physicality from a young age.
“He looked like a man among boys,” one scout said.
The Cardinals felt that track record of success could immediately translate into professional ball and it did.
“He is a gamer,” Morales said. “He has played in very important tournaments. He represented Cuba. He was definitely very advanced for his age and that level of competition. That was something you were able to see when he played in the DSL.
“He played for his home country and we know that in Cuba that is something that is extremely important. He was able to translate that to professional baseball.”
The right-hander hitter produces a mature tool set with his power, arm strength and below-average speed. Nuñez has plus raw power and puts up high exit velocity numbers when he gets his arms extended.
Though, there is some length to his swing where his hands shoot away from his body, leaving him vulnerable inside at times. But Nuñez has mostly shown a sound idea of the strike zone as well.
Defensively, the Cardinals see Nuñez as a third baseman – at least initially – with an average arm.
“We are going to give him all the opportunities to develop at third base,” Morales said. “We feel he makes all the plays. You can definitely project him to stay at third base, but time will tell where he will move defensively.”
Nuñez has also already worked out at the Cardinals facility in Jupiter, Fla, which introduces him to more of the organizations’ coaches.
Asked if he can potentially be a fast mover, Morales cautioned he is only 17, but he said the Cardinals group of third basemen – with Elehuris Montero, Evan Mendoza and Nolan Gorman – will help to not rush him through the system.
“Those are decisions that he is going to let us know,” Morales said. “When we get to spring training, it will be our farm director and coaches when they see him to make that decision. But once again, we have a good group.
“It is going to be a great problem for them to have deciding who is going to go where and when is going to be a good time to move them.”
Nuñez certainly raised eyebrows in his first pro season with the Cardinals.
“You always want to see that impact,” Morales said. “I don’t think any of us anticipated him winning the Triple Crown.”
Brian Walton (16): Ok, here comes Debbie Downer again. Had Carson Kelly not been traded a few weeks ago, my score would have kept Nuñez out of the overall top 10, not that I planned any of it.
My ranking is based on one thing and one thing alone – the total extent of Nuñez’ professional experience consists of 199 plate appearances as the lowest-level of competition of organized baseball. The Dominican Summer League is a level at which pitchers are not typically able to control their breaking pitches with consistency.
Having said that, there was a lot to like about Nuñez’ introduction. An awful lot.
The 17-year old needed absolutely no time to adapt. After signing on July 2nd, Nuñez finished the month with 25 RBI, tying fellow Cuban Adolis Garcia for tops in the entire Cardinals system and leading the way with his .401 batting average and 1.201 OPS. Then, in August, his first full month, he topped his July numbers at .420 and 1.345, respectively. As a result, Nuñez was named both TCN’s and the Cardinals organization’s August Player of the Month.
Nuñez had at least one hit in 40 of his 44 games and was kept off base for an entire game just twice all season long. His 2018 record included a 22-game hitting streak. Nuñez collected multiple hits in 21 contests and drove in multiple runs 17 times, with his highlight a two home run, eight RBI performance on August 7.
Nuñez ended the season not only tops in the DSL in the Triple Crown categories of home runs, RBI and batting average, the right-handed hitter was also first in total bases. Further, he led the way in on-base percentage, slugging and of course OPS, as well as wRC+.
Nuñez showed off his plate discipline by striking out at a 14.6 percent rate, the lowest on the Cardinals Blue. He walked in 13.1 percent of his plate appearances – a superior combination. He was TCN’s Player of the Year for the DSL and our top first-year player in the entire Cardinals system.
But let’s look beyond his DSL domination to try to put his introduction into broader context.
Nuñez led all of affiliated baseball in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, wRC+, and ranked second in on-base percentage, just 14 points behind the leader. To be specific, “affiliated baseball” here includes all of the minor leagues plus Major League Baseball.
His 238 wRC+ is 138 percent better than the DSL average and 38 percent better than the next highest wRC+ in affiliated ball in 2018, posted by another DSL player.
According to research by TCN’s Scott Schook, only two players have ever put up a season with a better wRC+ at any level – Babe Ruth in 1920 (239 wRC+) and Barry Bonds in 2002 (244 wRC+). Of course, both did it on the game’s biggest stage, a long, long way from the fields of the Dominican Republic.
I gave Nuñez a scouting grade of “7 high”. No Cardinals prospect this year will have a higher assessment than “7”, which is MLB all-star potential. “High” indicates there is far more projection than results behind it, though.
A jump from the DSL straight to the Midwest League for an 18-year old’s first full-season as a professional would be an extremely aggressive move. Demonstrating readiness for that involves more than just baseball skills – things we cannot assess.
But I don’t think it will come into play, as I expect that 2018 first-rounder Nolan Gorman will return to Peoria to open the season, with the 10 months-younger Nuñez in extended spring training. Even so, if Gorman earns a promotion to Palm Beach by June, Nuñez could replace him.
Still, no matter where he starts, I cannot think of a player I am more interested in seeing play in person than Nuñez.
Our 2019 top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!
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