It took a switch to catcher for the 2014 season for the scouting accolades to really arrive for Dom Nunez. Nunez, Colorado's sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft, was rated as -- and paid like, receiving an $800,000 bonus -- a second- or third-round talent, ranking 65th on Baseball America's Top 100 list. After poor stats in his debut season in Grand Junction (driven in part by a .225 BABIP) playing as a second baseman and shortstop, Nunez repeated the level but this time was behind the plate (where he spent time in high school).
In 198 plate appearances in 2014, Nunez (who bats lefty) lived up to his athleticism and potential against pitchers who were 18 months older than him on average, putting up a .313/.384/.517 line (129 wRC+) combined with good patience (10.6% walk rate) and advanced receiving behind the plate. For more on Nunez that year, read the interview conducted by our own Drew Creasman.
Meanwhile, national prospect watchers took notice of Nunez when evaluating the Rockies system. In fact, Nunez placed in the top 10 of Baseball Prospectus's end of 2014 Rockies prospect list. Here's a selection of what Nick Faleris wrote about Nunez:
The NorCal prep product has a traditional catcher's frame, compact and sturdy, with more than enough athleticism and lateral quickness to grow into a solid defender in time. Nunez's years as a middle infielder have no doubt helped him to transition behind the dish, particular in the catch-and-throw department where he displays a quick and clean transfer and impressive accuracy. Offensively, the young backstop stood out in the Pioneer League for his ability to get to pitches across the hit zone, utilizing a compact and efficient swing to spray line drives across the field. Nunez should graduate to full-season ball in 2015 where he'll look to continue to build on the momentum gained this year.
Nunez indeed graduated to the Low A South Atlantic League in 2015. Early on in the year, there was cause for concern for those on the Nunez bandwagon. The (just turned) 21 year-old really struggled initially with Low A pitching that was again 18 months older than him on average. In the season's first half, Nunez limped to an ugly .216/.280/.251 line with zero homers and only six extra base hits in 187 plate appearances. Unlike the situation of fellow PuRP Kevin Padlo, who was sent back to short season ball after first half struggles, the Rockies stuck with Nunez in Asheville and were rewarded with one of the best second halves in the entire system.
From the All-Star Break on, Nunez was a one man wrecking crew for the Tourists. In 254 plate appearances in the season's second half, Nunez mashed to the tune of .335/.444/.607 with 13 homers and 30 extra base hits while walking in 14.6% of his plate appearances! That's downright Ruthian. In all, Nunez finished with an excellent .282/.373/.448 batting line (135 wRC+) in 441 plate appearances in Asheville.
Furthermore, Nunez walked almost the same amount of times as he struck out (12% BB rate, 12.5% K rate), showing a combination of excellent patience at the plate and great contact ability that compares favorably to other Rockies prospects (and indeed, most prospects in the minors). Beyond the hitting numbers, Nunez showed the raw tools and mental fortitude to stick behind the plate (though he did have 16 errors, 11 passed balls, and a 21% CS rate).
Recently MLB.com recognized the improvements Nunez had shown in 2015 by naming him as the 7th best catching prospect in the minor leagues. Notably, relative to the midseason 2015 list (in which he rated 15th among Rockies prospects), MLB.com upgraded his Hit tool from 50 to 55, Power tool from 45 to 50, and (most encouragingly) his Field tool from 45 to 55. Here's what they recently had to say about Nunez:
Nunez has a chance to contribute both offensively and defensively, and he surged at the plate in the second half of 2015, batting .335/.444/.607 with all 13 of his homers. He controls the strike zone well, focuses on using the center of the field and has pull power. One club official compared Nunez's sweet left-handed swing to that of Carlos Gonzalez.
For someone who shifted behind the plate full-time just two years ago, Nunez is an advanced defender. He has soft hands, moves well and already stands out with his receiving and blocking ability. Nunez also has solid arm strength, but he needs to improve the accuracy of his throws.
Beyond those plaudits, Nunez's work ethic, intelligence, and character are all praised in the highest regard by coaches and teammates. This situation generally leads to a higher chance that a player will hit or raise the ceiling of his projected tools. I ranked Nunez 16th on my personal list this time around, which now seems too low for a player of his potential, but there really are a large number of players in the system with a great deal of promise.
Nunez will be moving on to Modesto next year to face another challenge in the California League. A strong showing from him in that environment might vault him into the upper echelons of even a very strong system like Colorado's and into the top 100 in MLB.