Scottsdale, Ariz. -- The Colorado Rockies hope they have a catcher of the future in Tom Murphy (No. 10 PuRP), set to start this season in Triple-A but not far from sustained time in the big leagues. If Murphy doesn't work out for whatever reason, the club has another good-looking catcher coming quickly: Dom Nunez.
Nunez (No. 13 PuRP), is fresh off a monster season at Low-A Asheville, where he slashed .282/.373/.448 in 373 at-bats (104 games), slugging 23 doubles and 13 more home runs from the left side of the plate while catching full-time. By far his most encouraging stats from 2015, though, centered on his ability to put the ball in play while discerning strikes from balls; he walked 53 times in the South Atlantic League against only 55 strikeouts, a ratio nearly unheard of in professional baseball these days.
Last summer was also the second straight year Nunez caught full-time after the Rockies tried to make him an infielder in 2013 straight out of the MLB Draft. Catching agrees with Nunez, a natural behind the plate who's extremely well-regarded defensively with a strong arm and a natural ability to receive pitches.
Above, watch some video of the 21-year-old take batting practice at the Rockies' Scottsdale facility, and get an at-bat in an intrasquad scrimmage facing minor league reliever Christian Talley (Nunez flew out in the at-bat).
A few thoughts about Nunez: like we've seen recently with Roberto Ramos, Nunez has something of a drop-step stride, perhaps to keep his weight back and balance over his back (left) leg. And like any good lefty, boy, does Nunez have a smooth, sweet swing. Obviously, there ought to be some concerns about his numbers considering he's a lefty who enjoyed a good offensive season in Asheville, but as a catcher he has some room to work with at the plate, as almost any offense—especially power—from that position is typically a bonus.
Beyond that, I do love off-handed hitting catchers; that is, a right-handed catcher who bats left-handed. Depending on their ability, a manager has so many more options with catcher platoons when one of the two hits left-handed; just thinking (two or three years ahead) of a catching platoon between Murphy and Nunez is a fun (and probably pretty productive) pair to consider at Coors Field.
There is one concern I have with Nunez's swing mechanics, even seen very briefly in this video, and it has to do with that same off-handed swing idea; it seems like the lefty is prone to dropping his back shoulder and getting under pitches quite a bit. You can hear a coach tell him to 'get on top of it' in the video during batting practice, and you can see that as he hunches over the plate—Nunez certainly isn't the tall type like teammate Campbell Wear—the catcher has a tendency to lift the ball as he drives his bat through the hitting zone.
My theory is that off-handed hitters (hitters that swing on the opposite side of the plate from which they throw) have slightly weaker top hands, and thus, can't control the bat in quite the same way as same-handed hitters. As a catcher, Nunez's right arm is strong, obviously, and almost no matter what he does to train, his left will inevitably be just slightly weaker. As he steps into the left-handed box, then, it means an ever-so-slight inability to stay as consistently on top of the ball. That should probably turn into a lot of balls in the air, and thus, a lot of flyouts as his career progresses.
The stats seem to bear it out; Nunez has recorded just 0.8 groundouts for every flyout over his career. Some of that is inevitable for any power hitter trying to lift the ball, although Nunez's teammate Ramos is also a power hitter, and yet he's logged 1.42 groundouts for every career flyout. Another fellow power hitter, Shane Hoelscher, has 1.25 groundouts for every career flyout. And Asheville's other slugger in 2015, Max White, has recorded 1.36 groundouts for every flyout in his career.
Food for thought.
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