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Colorado Rockies prospect Dom Nunez needs his offense to catch up with his defense

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Purple Row Prospect No. 14, Dom Nunez

14. Dom Nunez (608 points, 39 ballots)

Coming into 2016, there was quite a bit of prospect hype surrounding Dom Nunez. The lefty-hitting catcher had just posted a .335/.444/.607 line with all 13 of that season's homers in 206 at-bats after the All-Star Break with Low A Asheville. In total Nunez produced a 135 wRC+ season at age 20 in full season ball as a catcher. That offensive showing combined with advanced defense, game-calling, and leadership traits according to talent evaluators vaulted Nunez up prospect lists entering 2016—including placement as the #7 catching prospect in all of MILB by MLB.com.

Unfortunately, the now 22-year-old backstop (who began his professional career as a middle infielder) didn’t quite find that same offensive punch in 2016 with High-A Modesto. In 450 plate appearances with the Nuts this year, Nunez produced a .241/.321/.362 line with just 25 extra base hits, good for an 85 wRC+ in the California League against players that were 1.4 years older on average. The good news is that Nunez controlled the running game well in 2016 (41 percent caught stealing) and cut down on his errors (seven in 2016, down from 16 in 2015), though he did allow 19 passed balls (up from 11 in 2015).

An encouraging sign for Nunez offensively is that he has shown patience at the plate (10.9 BB%, 20.2 K%) to partially offset his power outage this season. He's been praised up and down the organization (and right here in Purple Row in a profile by Bobby DeMuro) for his work ethic and maturity, so it feels inevitable that Nunez will find his way sometime soon.

Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs placed Nunez 18th in the system recently:

Nunez has modest across-the-board tools and a visually pleasing swing but a lack of bat speed and power on contact are beginning to show in his performance. Nunez has some bat control and lift in his swing but hits mostly ground balls and humpback liners, and as he’s moved up the minor-league ladder, fewer of those are falling in for hits. Nunez has a fringe-average arm and spotty but inoffensive receiving and ball-blocking skills. He could be an average defender at peak. It’s a backup profile unless the body provides more power down the line.

That represents a good picture of where Nunez was in 2016—the hope is that he regains the hitting stroke that made people pay attention after last year.

Meanwhile, Nunez has slipped from ninth to 13th on MLB.com's list (and notably from a 50 FV to a 45 FV by their reckoning) due to his offensive struggles this year:

Though the results haven't been there in high Class A this year, Nunez has maintained a quality approach, patiently controlling the strike zone and focusing on using the center of the field. The Rockies still believe in his power and think he can hit 15 or more homers per season.

For someone who shifted behind the plate full-time just two years ago, Nunez is an advanced defender. He has soft hands and moves well, though his receiving skills have slipped this year. Nunez also has solid arm strength, but he needs to improve the accuracy of his throws.

Nunez missed the Baseball Prospectus top 10, but he got a writeup from Wilson Karaman:

So walk with me for a minute back in time, to a simpler time in December of 2014, when Nunez cracked the Rockies’ top ten list with notes of cautious optimism about how the recent catching convert had progressed thus far and was likely to progress further. All he’s done since is continue to address pretty much exactly what we suggested he needed to address: quality makeup has driven slow and steady improvement behind the dish, and after sluggish starts at each of his past two years his bat has grown successfully into his level, leading to strong second-half power displays in spite of in-season wilt. That he hasn’t managed to reclaim a top-ten anointment is a fault of nothing beyond systemic depth. He lacks for impact tools, but he shows a broad skillset for a backstop, with proper physicality behind the dish and a solid-average arm. And in the box there are ingredients for an average hit tool and playable power not far behind. The 22-year-old still has a good bit of minor-league journey ahead, but he remains on track for a potentially lengthy big-league career.

Ultimately, Nunez is a potential big-league signal caller who was the primary catcher on a High-A ball team at age 21, though his offense wasn’t up to par this past season. He’s a potential plus defensive catcher who has a beautiful swing that, if it comes together, makes him a solid big league starter. Nunez will need to show well in 2017, whether it’s a repeat in the California League or a move up to Double-A. He’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season, so the Rockies would prefer to be sure Nunez is an asset worth protecting by adding him to the 40 man roster.

If Nunez can get to the Show, he'd most likely do so in late 2018 or 2019 and his most likely role would be as a backup to fellow PuRP Tom Murphy or Tony Wolters. I gave Nunez a 45 Future Value as a potential MLB catcher with the ability to be a decent starter and ranked him 17th on my ballot.