Dom Nuñez has had an up-and-down career in the Rockies minor league system since he was drafted as a middle infielder in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. Since his conversion to a full-time catcher, he has had to adjust not only to professional-level baseball but also to a new position. That development has taken some time, seeing as his offensive numbers weren’t great between Modesto and two years in Hartford. However, catchers can take some more time to develop defensively anyway. With his promotion to Triple-A, Nuñez set his sights on bettering his offense and managing the Isotopes’ pitching staff. So far, both seem to be clicking for him.
“For me, just offensively I wanted to have a better year.” Nuñez said, “I think so far I’m on the right track. I can’t really put like a number on certain things as home runs, RBIs, average, stuff like that but just overall have a good offensive year and then, obviously you want the team to win as much as possible. And then defensively just hopefully have a good pitching staff and manage a good pitching staff.”
Managing a pitching staff is a huge part of a catcher’s responsibility on a baseball team. Fans have seen firsthand how much a catcher can impact the starting rotation, particularly with young pitchers. Kyle Freeland and Chris Iannetta formed a partnership last year that helped Freeland develop into a pitcher who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Tony Wolters has great chemistry with Jon Gray and German Márquez. One strategy Nuñez and his battery mates do to build chemistry is to hold daily meetings
“We do meetings every single day, as far as game planning for that night, whether it’s me or Drew [Butera] catching,” he mentioned, “We both sit in the meeting and both put in our input with the starting pitcher that night and then every series we go over with the bullpen, just the hitters that we’re gonna face and we have a bunch of information on guys and we just try and process that information and whatever you think is most useful for yourself and just use it and yeah, so far it’s been good.”
Since he started as a middle infielder, much like Tony Wolters, Nuñez has had to catch up a little bit. However, he’s found a good mentor in Drew Butera who is helping him through the process. Butera, 35, has been in Major League Baseball for nine years so he has been helping Nuñez process all of the information and manage the grind of being a catcher on the cusp of the big leagues.
Nuñez said the biggest thing that Butera has been helping him with is, “just the everyday grind of everything and then I think just all the information. I think is the biggest one that he’s helped me out with because you get thrown a lot of information and he said, ‘you’re just gonna get thrown more when you hit the big leagues so just kinda processing what you like and what you need, taking that with you.’”
So much of baseball is driven by statistics and scouting reports, which can be overwhelming to any young player. However, since it’s the catcher’s job to call the game on the field while the manager might call things off the field, there’s a lot more to internalize and therefore it could be even more challenging to learn and compartmentalize.
He elaborated on how he is perfecting the art of game calling, saying, “I think the main thing is, it’s like every year so far you learn in game like, just by playing, pitch calling and all the information that you get you learn how to take what you like from it and maybe something that you didn’t think you were gonna need maybe you look at it and are like ‘oh, I like this information.’ It’s just the information you get at this level is a lot.”
He said that Butera keeps reminding him that there will be more information in the big leagues, but right now Nuñez is working on studying the information that he’s being given for PCL hitters so he can help his current pitching staff be successful.
“Those guys [pitchers], I mean, it’s a tough job that they have.” he chuckled, “They’re pretty much alone on an island, that’s the best way that we kinda explain it, so you do whatever you can to walk them through games when they’re struggling. Those are the games that they need the most help. Obviously it’s nice to catch the games where it’s seven innings, no runs, three hits, seven punchies or whatever but it’s the games where you’re grinding out to get, ‘I need to get four or five innings out of this guy to keep us in this game and then hopefully win the game’ because at this park, and pretty much in the PCL, you’re not out of any game.”
Since the Rockies’ season seems to be going in a very similar “you’re not out of any game” direction, it’s probably good that Nuñez and the rest of the Isotopes are getting the same experience so they are more ready to deal with the gauntlet that is Coors Field if and when they get called up.
Beyond soaking up everything he can from his mentor, Nuñez has some other goals for the end of the season.
“I just wanna finish strong. Pretty much kinda like I just mentioned, the whole adjusting to the pitchers because they definitely adjusted and I definitely noticed a difference for about two weeks, but I felt like I adjusted back and I feel like I’ve had a lot of success probably the last week or so. Just kinda keep doing that and if they adjust again, just try and make the adjustment and then just take it a day at a time, a pitch at a time,” he said.
He continued his glowing review of his mentor, but also talked about one of the perks of being so geographically close to the big league club.
“I think the coolest thing is being able to work with Drew and then Yonder [Alonso] being here, having some rehab guys come down, just talk to them,” he added, “I think that’s when you learn the most is from the guys that have had a handful of years in the big leagues and they want to help out the younger guys and we’ve had a lot of guys. Every guy that’s come through and rehabbed is definitely looked out to try and help younger guys so it’s been a really good year where you normally don’t get that too much in Double-A because, just being on the East Coast we don’t get too many rehab guys but pretty much every leader that’s come here has tried to help out as much as they can and it’s been really good.”
Nuñez hopes the Isotopes finish strong as a team. They’re currently 45-61 and fourth out of four in the PCL Pacific Southern division. They are 17.5 games back from the division leading El Paso Chihuahuas (Triple-A Padres). It’s certainly been a roller coaster year in Albuquerque, but Nuñez has provided a bright spot for the Isotopes. Maybe that will be enough for a spot on the 40-man roster, and with that an opportunity in Denver come September.