photo: Malcom Nuñez (Springfield Cardinals)
Holding down no. 15 in The Cardinal Nation’s Top 50 prospect countdown for 2022 is a 20-year-old progressing toward St. Louis, but as with any third baseman, Malcom Nuñez has an uncertain future at the hot corner. FREE report!
Position: Third base
Age: 20 years old
Height/Weight – 5’11/205
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent on July 2, 2018 for a reported $300,000
Primary team in 2021: Springfield Cardinals (Double-A)
Finished 2021: Springfield Cardinals (Double-A)
Prior Top 50 rankings – 2021 #14, 2020 #13, 2019 #10
Click on the above photo to be taken to Nuñez’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Jake Tweedie’s scouting report
(current grade/future grade)
Nuñez has worked hard to get to the position he reached in 2021. There were some flaws in his game, which resulted in an average of .183 in Low-A in 2019, as well as just one extra base hit in 21 games.
He adjusted his approach and was more focused at the plate in 2021, thus resulting in his promotion to Double-A. He performed well for Springfield, showing that he can handle the tough assignments given him by the Cardinals.
Nuñez’s main approach is power and he can hit balls with high exit velocities. Although this can sometimes lead to strikeouts due to his overreliance on power and aggression, he still managed to finish with an average of .257 in Double-A. Despite power being his main tool, he doesn’t hit enough home runs due to his inability to regularly hit the ball in the air.
His size and stature should increase in time, which could aid this, but a big part of his game is to go for power and aim for home runs, so it will need to be refined in 2022 for him to really maximize his potential.
For a 20-year-old, Nuñez is full of potential and talent. Although it will take time for him to adjust his approach and refine the way he approaches pitchers at the plate, he certainly has the potential to maximize his tools and log a successful 2022.
Future Value: 45
Role: Platoon player
Brian Walton’s environmental impact report
Signed in July 2018, Nuñez excelled immediately, winning the Dominican Summer League Triple Crown that year. However, Nuñez took a significant step backward in 2019 after being challenged in his first full season as a professional and first shot at playing in the US. He started that year in extended spring training but stumbled in a big test when assigned to Class-A in mid-May.
The then-18-year-old hit just .183 in 21 games against Midwest League pitchers who were often two to four years older. Once the short-season leagues opened in June, Nuñez was backed down to face more age-appropriate competition in the Appalachian League with Johnson City.
In 37 games with JC, Nuñez slashed .254/.336/.385/.721. His wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) was 103, three percent above league average and ninth on his team. He helped the Cardinals win their fifth Appalachian League title of the decade in what became the team’s swan song.
As Nuñez only had about 2/3 of the plate appearances of other team leaders due to missing time because of injury, his counting stats did not stand out. He hit just two home runs and plated 14 in his 37 games with Johnson City. The trend was not positive, as his August numbers were substantially poorer than his July results.
To open 2020, Nuñez received his second invitation to the organization’s January instructional camp in Jupiter, Florida. He was back in July as one of the handful of non-MLB-ready prospects brought to the alternate camp in Springfield to get a valuable summer’s worth of work, an advantage not many prospects were given.
2021 recap – professional
By his Triple Crown DSL rookie debut, Nuñez set his initial expectation bar unreasonably high. As a result, he will likely never be able to duplicate his 238 wRC+ in 2018. That fell to a disappointing 80 wRC+ in 2019 (36 at Class-A and 103 in Rookie Advanced). The third baseman rebounded to a slightly above-average 103 wRC+ in 2021 – 120 in High-A and 91 at Double-A.
In 375 plate appearances across the two levels this past season, Nuñez slashed .268/.339/.404/.743. He improved between Peoria and Springfield in some areas including a lower strikeout rate and higher walk rate. On the flip side, his RBI rate fell as he moved up. At Double-A, Nuñez plated just 19 runs in 54 games. One would like to see more production from a budding power hitter.
One scout who saw him in 2021 said, “I liked Nuñez in the past, but he is nothing other than a first/third base platoon player at best.”
Here in our rankings, the Cuban native has slipped ever-so-slightly in each of the three years since his debut prior to the 2019 season. After touching the top 10 initially, Nuñez is now no. 15. That is still very good, but having been repeatedly challenged at higher levels, he has yet to recapture the significant career momentum he created in 2018.
The pyramid narrows as 2020 top draft pick and fellow third base prospect Jordan Walker is coming up from the rear. Walker had an exceptional opening to his professional career, finishing 2021 with 55 games at High-A.
Walker may open 2022 at Springfield and if so, as a better prospect, he should have the priority between the two for playing time, if it comes to that. At some point, Nuñez may get more time at first base if the organization wants to give him a bigger MLB window through defensive diversification.
Then again, Walker’s future in the field does not include pushing Nolan Arenado out of a job, either. (Just ask Nolan Gorman about that.) So, the Cardinals could decide to start Walker’s move to other positions (first base and/or corner outfield) and keep Nuñez at the hot corner for now.
Regarding his initial 2022 team assignment, Nuñez appeared in 54 games with Springfield in 2021 and did not perform to league average, so most likely he will return to Double-A to open 2022. But with a good first half, he could reach Memphis in time to receive considerable at-bats. It wouldn’t be crazy to see Nuñez move up when either Gorman or Brendan Donovan reaches St. Louis.
While Nuñez seems to have a major league future ahead, how, when and where he achieves it is not clear at all.
The first important step is the one most under his control. He needs to achieve breakout success at Double-A (and even better at Triple-A) in 2022. Despite his relative youthfulness, Nuñez’ prospect clock is ticking. Specifically, a 40-man roster decision for him will be required this coming fall.
If the 40-man route is not chosen, there are several other possible paths ahead.
Risk of loss in the Rule 5 draft is an outcome the Cardinals would probably prefer to avoid, but the roster numbers can present a challenge, especially for a position at which the organization is will stocked.
Even with a good season ahead, Nuñez could be left unprotected in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft as were 2021 teammates and prospects Luken Baker and Delvin Perez the year prior. It may get down to the Cardinals assessing the odds of Nuñez sticking on another team’s big league roster for the entire 2023 season.
Like fellow third base prospect Elehuris Montero before him, Nuñez could be an appealing trade target to another organization if he does not carve out a reserve spot with St. Louis starting in 2023.
MLB debut: 2023
Rule 5 Eligible: 2022
Our 2022 Top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles planned daily into early 2022.
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