Updated: Dec 5, 2021
WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really my bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#11: 3B Malcom Nunez
21 Years Old on Opening Day
Signed out of Cuba in 2018
Springfield and Peoria
I want to start this one by saying that I believe that there is a weeeeee bit of helium in Malcom Nunez’s prospect standing.
In 2021, Nunez was young for the levels that he played at. He was also highly productive at both of those levels, and he’s deserving of a top 10 spot on the list. He’s deserving of all of the top 10-ish spots that he is receiving early on in the prospect pontificating season. He’s a great prospect and he’s super interesting.
But there is something about this kid that I just can’t figure out. That’s really all that is stopping him from being ranked in the top ten of my list.
Before we get any further, I’d also like to mention that Nunez dealt with a little nagging injury about midway through his AA tenure. He battled through it, and he’s battled through random little injuries here and there throughout his entire time in the organization. Nunez is certainly a tough kid.
The thing that I can’t quite figure out is how Nunez is as good as he is. At the plate, he reminds me a lot of a smaller of version of Elehuris Montero. Before we get too deep into that, it’s really his defense and base running that I can’t figure out. This is because Nunez looks incredibly awkward a lot of the time doing both things. He doesn’t play third as awkwardly as he looks, and he runs the bases cleaner than his choppy steps would otherwise indicate. He’s the most unathletic-yet-really-athletic prospect that I think that I’ve seen come through the system. It's kind of like Alec Burleson, but in a completely different way. I swear that I don’t understand him at all. Maybe the best way to describe it is that he looks kind of stiff in his movements.
I think that these "criticisms" should tell you how naturally gifted of a baseball player Nunez is. Some people are just meant to do certain things with their lives. I think that maybe Nunez was just meant to play baseball. He possesses some elite hand-to-eye skills at the plate and in the field. Sometimes he'll unravel at 3rd if he makes a bad play, but he can be so spectacular at times. Nunez also has an extra gear on the bases when it’s time to find it. He almost looks like he's gliding with little, fast, choppy steps when he's cruising.
To double back around to my comment about his similarities to Elehuris Montero, there's more than just a mini version of Montero that I see as similarities. I think that there is some fringy – but sometimes spectacular – defense at third base, but with a well above average arm to help gloss over some of the less sure-handed moments at the corner.
Both Montero and Nunez display a sneaky and underrated level of athleticism. Both gents have a similar swing path and timing mechanism, too. While Nunez didn’t get the same runway to do the damage at High-A Peoria that Montero was able to do at then Low-A Peoria at a similar age, both had standout turns at that location. They don't have the same heat map or field-usage, but they both get themselves in trouble when they are trying to make up for lost time. While both can hit for power, neither feature that skill as their most prevalent skill. To be honest, I’d like to see Nunez start to access some of the raw power in his quick swing. There are times when he gets to that raw power and you can envision a 25 homer season out of him. Nunez doesn't have the plate coverage of Montero, but his more compact stature allows him to get more leverage in his swing.
(Quick side note: It was awesome to see Montero perform so well in the Rockies system during the 2021 season. I don’t care if they are still in the system or not; you’ve gotta root for the kids.)
On the 2021 season, Nunez didn’t have the most impressive stat line, hitting 268/339/404 in the 375 plate appearances between AA and A+. While his wRC+ on the season was only slightly above average at 103, I love that we can supplement that info with additional info.
First, we have to keep in mind that Nunez was only 20 years old for the entire season. That was 2.4 years younger than average at Peoria and 4 years younger on average at Springfield. That is a steep learning curve at advanced levels for someone so young and inexperienced, state-side.
Next, take note of his 18.9% strikeout rate and his 8.5% walk rate on the season. While both numbers aren’t eye-popping, they are both impressive numbers for a kid that was as young as Nunez at the levels that he played at. It was also intriguing in a positive way to see Nunez embrace the entirety of the field as he went in search of hits. There is a lot of change and augmenting going on with his swing and approach, and the fact that the he didn't just float through the season is a big plus.
It was also really great to see Nunez adapt so quickly to AA. It took Nunez a little bit of time to understand the league and to adapt to it, but he never seemed overmatched after that first week or so of the season.
Nunez really rose to the occasion during the final month of the season. From September 2nd until the final game of the season, a span of a modest 57 plate appearances, Nunez hit 415/456/547 with a double and two homers. His strikeout rate rose to over 24%, but he put up a wRC+ of 173 during September of 2021. This success also came after Nunez was given a period of about four games to rest some of those nagging injuries. Nunez adjusted, and adjusted quickly with a little extra health.
While Nunez’s season wasn’t a season of shock-and-awe, it was a season of growth and determination. A baseball player that is just starting to come into his own while adapting to some tough levels for his age, Nunez is starting to put it together. While it’s not in a “big way” just yet, it is trending in that direction. While I have my concerns about his ability to stay at third in the long run, I’m not so worried about that right now. I don’t have the slightest idea of the position other than left field that he’d transition to, and I am happy that we aren’t at that point yet.
The one area at the plate where he can be a little vulnerable consistently, other than the times that he is over-aggressive (which is becoming less and less frequent), is when he is sitting on pitches on the inner half. It's like he just can't pull the trigger sometimes. That is something that is going to need to be worked on.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Nunez was raking at AAA by July of 2022. I'm really excited to see Nunez face the next challenge.
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Thank For Reading!!