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Young Rockies making the most of their opportunities in 2021

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In a season of transition, Dom Nuñez and Yonathan Daza are looking to establish their major league identities

One of the few good things that come from tumultuous times in an organization is the rising opportunities of young players to find their identity within the major leagues—young men looking to make a name for themselves playing on the main stage they’ve spent their whole lives dreaming about. What’s important is that they take advantage of this opportunity, and two Rockies youngsters—Dom Nuñez and Yonathan Daza—are standing out and doing just that.

Outfielder Yonathan Daza has followed a familiar road. Like Raimel Tapia before him, Daza was out of options before getting regular playing time. At least Tapia had his spread out over three seasons, however, because Daza’s options were gone in just one. He bounced back and forth between Albuquerque and the big league club during the 2019 season, making his MLB debut on April 9th of that year. Blocked by a crowded outfield, Daza received just 97 major league at-bats in 2019, slashing an unimpressive .206/.257/.237 before spending the entirety of 2020 at the Rockies’ alternate training site. He earned his way onto the Opening Day roster as the fourth outfielder and bench bat by flashing during spring training with a line of .320/.360/.430 and hitting two triples. It looked like he might still be blocked from regular playing time in 2021, but with Ian Desmond opting out, Chris Owings landing on the 60-day IL, and uncertainty in center field, Daza is getting starts in center in addition to at-bats off the bench.

Daza stands as one of the Rockies’ most valuable batters early in the season. He has started nine of the 17 games he’s appeared in, and through that stretch he leads the active team in batting average with .325, and has a fourth best on base percentage of .317, a sixth best slugging percentage of .450, and a wRC+ of 93. Daza also clocked his first major league home run during a two-game home series against the Astros last week. If Daza continues to produce at this rate, he could potentially cement himself as the starting center fielder.

Catcher Dom Nuñez had a more obvious situation coming out of the spring compared to his fellow rookie. With the Rockies deciding to move on from the under-performing Tony Wolters and Drew Butera, Elias Díaz was named the starting catcher and Nuñez was named his backup. However, his road to the show was just as rocky as Daza’s. The catching prospect was called up on August 13, 2019 after Chris Iannetta was designated for assignment. Nuñez found scant playing time behind Wolters and Butera, logging just 39 at-bats. He slashed .179/.233/.410 with two home runs during that span, but also struck out 17 times. He then spent all of 2020 at the alternate training site while the Rockies rolled out a three headed monster of Tony Wolters, Drew Butera, and a freshly signed Elias Díaz. In spring training he earned the backup role with a line of .333/.415/.639 with two home runs and showed improved plate discipline by walking five times to his nine strikeouts.

Nuñez now finds himself as the Rockies’ starting catcher, having supplanted a struggling Elias Díaz. While Díaz has slashed a frustrating .100/.206/.100 with no home runs (or extra base hits at all) in eight starts across 11 games, Nuñez is showing his potential. The rookie still strikes out a lot—19 strikeouts to four walks— but tears the cover off the ball when he makes contact. He’s slashing .233/.298/.628 with four home runs (behind Ryan McMahon’s team leading seven), a double, and two triples. He has a team leading wRC+ of 126 compared to Elias Díaz’s -15. Ideally his strikeout rate will normalize with continued regular playing time, which he will get so long as he keeps flashing his offensive potential.

Many Rockies prospects have had to wait to get their shot, but Dom Nuñez and Yonathan Daza are taking the opportunities they’ve been given and running with them in order to forge their identities as big league ball players. The final results will remain to be seen until the season draws to a close, but these early breakouts are promising.