2020 Preseason Dirty Thirty-Five: Prospect #11

PROSPECT PREFACE

I present to you my list of the top 35 prospects within the Cardinals organization!! The list is both exhausting and ever-evolving.

I am aggressive with who I deem to be a "Graduate." You can read the post that I wrote on The Graduates by following this link. As a heads up, you won't find Lane Thomas, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Andrew Knizner, Rangel Ravelo, or Edmundo Sosa on The Dirty Thirty-Five (R.I.Cardinals Prospect.P to Tampa Bay Ray Randy Arozarena and Texas Ranger Adolis "JAG" Garcia).

There is also another group of about 15 prospects that I could have written about. They are on the outside looking in, currently. I did write in-depth about five of them, and I presented those fellas in this article. I also briefly touch on a bunch of other prospects in that article.

Finally, I totally cheated and basically just copied and pasted the individual write-ups from the "Position Rankings" articles that I wrote after Black Friday. I hadn't realized how thorough those write-ups were until I started to redoing the D35. Those write-ups are the shells for these posts. I have added additional gifs and thoughts to each and I've done some MAJOR editing within each write-up, as well.


Please enjoy! Please have fun! Please tell me what you think!


Third Baseman Malcom Nuñez

Age 19 (On March 9th)

Johnson City and a wee bit of Peoria

International Free Agent, 2018


I want to get the first gif of this article out there as soon as possible. This was from 2016. This was a 15-year-old (he might actually be 14, but I don't do birth-date math) Malcom Nuñez with a perfect swing. Look at how physically gifted he is, as well. Keep this gif close, because we are going to be coming back to it a couple of times.


I just love that swing so damn much.


The reason that I am spending so much time overemphasizing it is because it's not the same swing that he's rolling with these days. I really want to see him try to get back to his old swing, if he can.


In the gif below, you'll see what it looked like on May 24th of this season. The first thing that you'll notice is that Malcom Nuñez has put on weight. He's a little chunky, but it's not a bad amount of weight. Every baseball player to ever walk the Earth grows and puts weight on between the ages of 15 and 19. Obviously, Nuñez isn't an exception. But Nunez is going to have to be careful not too put too much more bad weight on. He's strong and thicc, and it's going to be a tough balance. You can see in that swing that some of the natural athleticism from his earlier years is no longer present. That's a concern, especially for a player that is still only 19.


You'll also notice that Malcom Nuñez has become more active with his hands. What these gifs won't show you, exactly, is that Nuñez starts with the bat on his shoulders. From there, he raises the bat and pumps the bat back first, then away from his body in an overly-pronounced manner. It's like he's circling his hands around a telephone pole. That's a lot of motion, and it causes him to get on top of pitches because he's trying to fire his hands through the zone quicker than he needs to. I believe that Nuñez is going to have to get his hands under control. It doesn't need much work; he just needs to go back to what he did when he was raking as a 14/15-year-old for Cuba in the International circuit. You'll also notice that, while still big and exaggerated, Nuñez's leg-kick starts earlier and hangs longer these days. Personally, I think that this is part of the reason that his hands are off, but the leg-hang is part of the reason why his timing is off. There isn't a lot of work to do here, but there is work to do. I take comfort in knowing that it's more a matter of reverting back to what he used to do rather than changing things around drastically.


While you might not be overly excited or impressed by Nuñez's statistical output during the 2019 season, I was satisfied with it. Especially considering that Nuñez dealt with a recurring back, neck, and shoulder issue throughout the season. Nuñez got a little eight-game taste of Peoria, and the intent was for him to start with Johnson City when their season fired up on June 18th. However, the neck/back/shoulder issue sidelined him for the first month of Johnson City's season. It wasn't anything serious from what I understand, but it was a nagging injury.


All of this post so far has been the warning shot for the introduction to the magic of Malcom Nuñez. When Nuñez is healthy, he's hitting. Hell, even when he isn't healthy, he's hitting. He's a masher, he's going to be a masher, and you shouldn't let the two home runs in 146 plate appearances fool you. His swing and his hands are lightning quick, and he has the ability to cover a tremendous amount of the plate while staying in the zone with his barrel. As I've said in the past, when he's in control at the plate, Nuñez's swing reminds me a bit of a right-handed version of Ray Lankford's swing.


Even with those mechanical issues that I mentioned, Nuñez has still had a tremendous amount of success in the minors, so far. He is a bit pull-happy, but he does a great job of covering a ton of the plate and keeping his barrel in the zone. He has some of the fastest hands in the organization, too. Even when his timing is off and his hand-action is slowing down his swing, those hands fire white-hot. I love the amount of torque he gets from his lower half. I also love the amount of raw power in his game. Again, it clearly didn't manifest the way that we all thought it would in 2019, but I'll put a hefty wager that we'll see it again in 2020 if he's healthy. I'd love to see him get his walk rate up, but I'm not interested in seeing him swing less. He makes a ton of contact early in counts, it's just that the contact is usually foul balls or four tips. It's a weird thing, really. I would site those mechanical adjustments as the reason why, but we are just going to have to wait and see. It isn't a great number, but I am actually really pleased to see that his K-rate was just barely below 20% in the Appy League. I believe that a lot of the underlying numbers indicate a player that is going to bust back out in 2020.

There really are a lot of similarities between Nuñez and fellow third base prospect Elehuris Montero. They have a similar build, a similar swing, cannons for arms at third, and Nuñez has similar concerns about his game that a 19-year-old Montero did. Unlike with Montero, I worry about Nuñez at third. He's definitely a wild card there. In the defensive pecking order of the three big-time third basemen in the organization, It'd currently be Montero then Gorman then Nuñez, and by a lot. He has the athleticism to stay there when he's in better shape, and the arm to stay there, but he does not read the ball well off of the bat, and he seems unsure of what his real range is. In short, he doesn't look as comfortable or as confident as he's going to need to be to stick there. Again, he's only 19 years old, so let's give him some time.

One thing that I absolutely love about Nuñez is that he seems to have a flair for performing in the spotlight. When he was playing in the International Circuit before the Cardinals signed him, Malcom was always one of the players that would stand out. During the Appy League playoffs, Nuñez went 7 for 24 with four walks and six strikeouts, and all seven of his RBI (and his home run) came at critical times. His offensive and defensive performance is a sizeable part of the reason why Johnson City won the Appy League Championship. Everything about Nuñez screams of a big-time performer

Looking at the depth chart, I'd love to see Nuñez start the season at Peoria. I also think that this is the most likely outcome. Of course, we'll just have to wait and see. He struggled there during a limited sample in 2019, but I believe that a good offseason will put him on the cusp of stardom.




THE DEAL


Entering his age 19 season, the right-handed hitting Nuñez has some work do to. The hope is that he has worked beyond a nagging shoulder/neck/back issue that caused him to miss a month of the minor league season. That's a very good sign. He is going to have to be careful to not put any extra weight on to his frame moving forward. As someone who is dealt with shoulder/neck/back issues since he was a teenager, I can tell you that maintaining a healthy weight and body structure will help these issues.


Nuñez has incorporated a couple of troubling mechanics into his swing, but they aren't so far gone that he won't be able to rediscover the majesty of his once-perfect right-handed swing. When he gets back to having quiet hands, that is when the mammoth offensive production will come back. He has the potential to be a big-time producer, offensively, with health and control.


There's a biy of a shower-stopper mentality to Nuñez, too, and in the best way imaginable. He performs at his best when he's playing on the biggest stages. If he can channel that mentality on a regular basis then, with good health, he'll be a force to recon with.



The biggest of shout outs should be given to @Cardinalsgifs, FanGraphs, Twitter, and MiLB. TV for all of the work that they do that eventually gets put into these articles.

Look at that beautiful pic by @Cardinalsgifs. A gif'ing-god among ants.


Thanks For Reading!!

Kyle Reis