Modesto, Calif. -- When Dom Nunez (No. 13 PuRP) talks about baseball, his expertise gravitates quickly to his job behind the plate. As he should be, the 21-year-old is a veritable encyclopedia of catching knowledge when it comes to knowing everything about his pitching staff and opposing hitters—and he takes that responsibility very personally.
But it's his work beside the plate, too, that has turned him into one of the Colorado Rockies' best prospects, and it's no accident people are so high on him considering the success he's had hitting the ball the last several summers. Now with the High-A Modesto Nuts, Nunez hasn't yet hit like he did last year in Low-A Asheville, where he batted .282 with 23 doubles, 13 home runs, and 53 walks in 104 games. But there is one area where the Elk Grove, California native has really impressed so far: drawing walks.
In his first 12 games, Nunez has drawn 14 walks, which unsurprisingly leads the California League. Ironically, though, that patient approach has been developed from his desire to be aggressive at the plate—he just understands the strike zone well enough to know he's not getting the pitches he wants to hit.
"I’m not looking to walk, I’m looking for pitches to hit, and if they’re not pitches I’d like to hit, I just spit on ‘em," Nunez says. "Even if they are strikes, if I don’t like the pitch, I can accept that. And if I strike out, I strike out, and if I walk, I walk."
Nunez has thus far been doing much more of the latter than the former, which means he's seeing the ball very well, be it out of pitchers' hands early, or through good pitch tracking and recognition. Interestingly, his discerning eye towards taking walks hasn't yet translated as well when he does swing; it's still very, very early in Modesto's season, but after a 5-for-20 mini-slump over his last five games, the catcher is slashing just .234/.410/.255. With an approach to the game that is beyond his age, though, Nunez isn't too worried about it.
"You need pitches that you can handle and zones that you can handle when you’re looking for balls to hit," he ponders. "Just seeing the ball well and staying with my approach is huge. That’s the number one thing. Staying in the middle of the field, and staying really simple."
Nunez possesses that sweet, smooth swing that seems natural to so many lefties; below, watch him take batting practice and get a few game at-bats from recent Nuts action in the California League:
The catcher's mini-slump is an interesting development, if only because it's arguably good to see a top prospect struggle in order to better understand how they deal with the adversity. After all, at some point this year—and if not now, certainly soon—Nunez is bound to go through one of those 1-for-25 slumps that affect all players. The catcher is ready for it, and he's already prepared with a steady outlook on his at-bats to counteract that drought.
"You just have to go back to the ways when you were hot," Nunez explains about going cold at the plate. "You look at where you were hitting the ball, what pitches you were hitting, maybe go back to some film, and ask the coaches. You've got to end that bad streak as quickly as possible."
Mini-slump aside, taking as many free passes as he has thus far bodes very well for Nunez's future, both in the California League this year, and in the long term as he moves towards the ultimate goal. The better he sees the ball and recognizes pitches early, obviously the better chance he has to be an impact bat, and to that end, he already feels good about his prospects in California's Central Valley.
"I think this is just the next step for me," Nunez says of Modesto and his outlook for the rest of the summer. "To me, the pitchers that we faced last year, they moved up and they have to face us here, too. That’s how I look at it."
"This game is all about confidence," he adds, alluding to the mental side he conquered so well his first few seasons, "and if you are lacking a little bit of confidence, the pitcher is out to get you."
The Rockies, it seems, have a panoply of personalities behind the plate across their organization. If Nick Hundley is the veteran presiding over all, if Dustin Garneau is one of the most approachable and affable backstops around, if Tony Wolters is the ultimate grinder pushing everyone on the roster, and if Jackson Williams inspires quiet confidence through leadership, then Nunez's fit in that strong group of catchers comes as a steady, level-headed kid finding his fit in the infancy of his career.
That is to say whether he's doing well or struggling badly, Dom Nunez doesn't get too emotionally high or low. That consistency will serve him very well moving forward.
"Some teams are starting to play shifts and this and that, but if you stay with your approach, the numbers play themselves out over the year," Nunez reasons. "The key is staying with your approach and playing the game the right way. A line drive in the gap is a line drive in the gap anywhere."
Isn't that the truth.
★ ★ ★
In addition the new Dom Nunez video in this piece (above), enjoy some video we shot of him last month at spring training, below. As you watch, if you haven't already, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. We'll have more prospect video coming all summer.