You may remember that the Colorado Rockies do not have much depth at the catching position. However, Dom Nunez looks strong early. He has the same number of plate appearances as Elias Diaz, but has much better results. It’s hard to say how much of the success is due to Nunez’s skills or general randomness, but he is worth exploring in-depth.
Digging into Dom Nunez
Dedicated fans may already know Nunez’s basic profile. He is a former sixth-round pick from the 2013 Amateur Draft in his second season at the big league level. He has been a fine hitter in the minor leagues with two seasons of above-average production, but some of that was surely due to the Rockies minor league hitting environments. Nunez has some solid tools behind the plate too. Additionally, he is just 26 years old as of 2021.
This year, the 6’1″ left-handed bat is posting some solid numbers with a slash line is just .174/208/565. That would be very mediocre if you were only looking at batting average or on-base percentage. However, the slugging is really producing value. It, along with an isolated power of .391 and .323 wOBA, have produced a hitter that is just below average. Although that may not excite some fans, Nunez is 22nd among catchers with at least 20 plate appearances. It’s as good as or better than far more well-known backstops like Yasmani Grandal or Mitch Garver.
Nunez is also demonstrating value early behind the plate. He is already worth roughly one Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and .2 framing runs. He is as good or better than Elias is only one inning more on defense. Obviously, everything is subject to the fact that we only have a few dozen of any single event, but fans should be very excited with how Nunez is performing in the early going.
Will Dom Nunez Improve?
Some may look at a .174 batting average and think that there is no room for improvement over a full season. They would be wrong if Nunez regresses in a positive direction and there is substantial reason to think he will. His BABIP is just .111. That would be one of the lowest BABIPs ever for a hitter as close to average as Nunez. The lowest full-season BABIP, for any catcher in the Expansion Era with at least 250 PAs and an OPS+ at or above 85, was Gary Sanchez in 2018 who finished with a .197 value in that category. It is highly unlikely that Nunez will have such bad luck on batted balls if his other stats remain constant.
How Colorado Should Manage Catching in 2021 and Beyond
The front office clearly thought Elias Diaz was worth keeping over Tony Wolters in the offseason, but he has very little upside at age 30. Dom Nunez is by far the more interesting player and should be given a majority of the starts throughout the year. The team is already 3-10, so there is very little to lose by starting the younger catcher more often.
It is also worth noting that Diaz may turn into a non-tender candidate himself at this rate. He actively hurts the team when he bats thanks to his -29 OPS+. He is scheduled for his third year of arbitration after this season and is doing nothing to earn a raise at this point. The team may also trade him for spare parts if a catcher at Triple-A Albuquerque gets hot too. Watch the catching situation in Colorado closely for any signs that the front office is willing to move away from an underperforming veteran.
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