Renato Nunez has only played about half of his team’s games so far in the Venezuelan League after a late arrival, but he’s already making up for lost time.
The 22-year-old has eight home runs through his first 22 games, which puts him one off the league lead. However, the two guys ahead of him have played 37 and 40 games, respectively, which is why Nunez’s .651 slugging percentage tops the league. Last week he went on a run of five straight games with a dinger.
This success is a welcome sight from Nunez after a discouraging 2016 campaign. He got off to a hot start for Nashville but fell into a disastrous midsummer swoon, and the result was a 78 wRC+ overall. He was young for Triple-A and he did at least make his MLB debut, but the off year will probably drop him from the Top 10 in our Community Prospect List in January. Fortunately, the Venezuelan native has rediscovered his stroke in his home country.
When it comes to context for winter leagues, the easiest way to look at it is to think of “upper minors,” as in Double-A and Triple-A. I imagine that in any given year the quality of each league can vary, but they’ll always lie somewhere in that range. So, it’s not like Nunez is taking a jump up to the next level with this big performance against relative peers, but at least he’s bouncing back against solid competition after stumbling in the highest reaches of the minors. That’s a productive step he can look to build on next spring as he competes for a spot in Oakland.
Perhaps just as important as Nunez’s power surge has been his steady plate discipline. He maintained his HR stroke even during his slump last summer, but one of the worst parts of his stat line in Nashville was his elevated strikeout rate, which went up for the first time in several years (to 21.6%). He has curbed that back a bit in the LVBP (19.8%), but has also doubled his normal walk rate (11.5%, thanks in part to a few intentional passes). Nunez’s calling card is his power, but he’ll need good plate discipline in order to use it. For him that primarily means continuing to make lots of contact like he did most of the way up the minors, but if he could bump up his OBP a bit too then he’d increase his chances even further of making it in the bigs.
Finally, Nunez has been getting time at 1B in the LVBP, which is actually a rare occurrence no matter how many times we optimistically write 3B/1B next to his name. I don’t have anything to report about his performance at the position, but considering he’s only played 16 professional games there in the minors (and none since 2015), it seems noteworthy.
Elsewhere in Venezuela, 1B Rangel Ravelo has remained quiet after a monster start, while RHP Carlos Navas is still mowing down hitters out of the bullpen. The only other winter league player worth reporting on is 2B Joey Wendle in the Mexican Pacific League, but he hasn’t played since Nov. 20. There’s no word on why he’s out of action, but remember that players often come and go from winter leagues at odd intervals (like Nunez arriving late, or Tyler Marincov leaving the Dominican League early).
Renato Nunez, IF: .337/.417/.651, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 11 BB, 19 Ks (96 PAs)
Rangel Ravelo, 1B: .264/.377/.405, 4 HR, 21 BB, 16 Ks (146 PAs)
Carlos Navas, RHP: 15 games, 2.31 ERA, 23⅓ ip, 29 Ks, 7 BB, 1 HR, 13 hits
The Venezuelan League plays through Dec. 29.
Click here for a full list of all the A’s players participating in winter leagues.