Yankees have versatile utility player in Nunez
Like most quality baseball clubs, the New York Yankees are constructed with players filling designated and specific roles. Each player knows what is expected of him as one component of the team.
For the remainder of the postseason, utility infielder Eduardo Nunez knows his role. He will be called upon to help fill the void created by the season ending broken ankle suffered in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series by team captain, shortstop Derek Jeter.
Jeter may not be replaceable. But somebody has to play his position.
The Yankees will likely use veteran Jayson Nix as the starting shortstop. Nix is a career .214 Major League hitter covering 1,071 plate appearances over parts of 5 seasons. This season, Nix hit .243 for New York in 202 plate appearances. He has played less than 40 games at shortstop in his Major League career.
Left off the American League Championship Series roster before Game 1, he was added to the ALCS roster as a replacement for the injured Jeter, and Nunez's presence for the remainder of the Yankees postseason may be crucial. He may be called upon to provide an offensive spark or steal a base. Nunez has shown he can hit.
The Yankees signed the 6-foot, 185-pound Nunez in 2004 as a free agent from the Dominican Republic.
Nunez has proven to be a very versatile, effective offense-first player with some gap pop in his bat.
At one point earlier in his career, Nunez was reported to be the eventual successor to Jeter at shortstop. However, that determination has not been finalized or communicated.
As the July 2010 non-waiver trading period unfolded, many felt the Yankees were offered Seattle Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee in exchange for Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero, pitcher Zack McAllister and infielder David Adams. However, Adams had suffered a severe ankle injury and it was reported the Mariners requested Eduardo Nunez as a substitution for Adams in the deal. The deal did not materialize. Instead, the Mariners traded Lee along with pitcher Mark Lowe to Texas for pitchers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, first baseman Justin Smoak and infielder Matt Lawson. Nunez remained a member of the Yankees.
Now 25-years old, Nunez has developed into a strong and agile infielder capable of playing third base, shortstop, second base and even the outfield. His greatest tools are his strong throwing arm, his speed and his ability to hit for both average and power. Those tools counter concerns about his inconsistent defense and occasional lackadaisical play.
At one point in his career, there was discussion of moving Nunez permanently to the outfield to capture his bat and aggressive approach in the lineup. Because of his athletic ability, such a position change may still be an option in the future.
Nunez has had a rather checkered career to date. He has enjoyed offensive success and moments when he has scuffled to correct his defensive shortcomings.
I have seen Nunez make some very difficult defensive plays. I have seen him use first step quickness and a rifle arm to nail runners at first base. I have also seen him make some rather foolish and careless errors due to a lack of concentration.
Nunez has played parts of seven Minor League seasons at every level of the Yankees organization. He has a combined Minor League batting average of .271, covering 2,961 plate appearances. In that time, Nunez has stolen 130 bases, while getting caught stealing 42 times.
Nunez is often criticized for excessive infield errors. He has recorded 172 errors in his Minor League career. In fact, he has three Minor League seasons of over 30 errors per season. The most recent was a 33-error 2009 season for Double-A Trenton. While his errors are excessive, it must be remembered that he has handled 2,866 chances in his seven seasons. That number helps put things in a bit more perspective.
At the Major League level, Nunez has played parts of three seasons, beginning with the 2010 season, when he was discussed in the potential trade for Lee. That year, Nunez hit .280 in his brief 53 plate-appearance trial with New York.
Overall, Nunez is a .272 Major League hitter, an almost identical batting average to his Minor League experience. He has made 28 errors in 409 Major League chances, which is too many.
Offensively, I have found Nunez to have very quick hands through the ball. He uses good eye-hand coordination to get the barrel of the bat through the hitting zone with a very level, if not a bit overly aggressive swing. Nunez doesn't like to walk. He likes to hit. I have seen moments when he has gotten himself out swinging at the pitcher's pitch.
Even with the aggressive approach, Nunez recognizes pitches well. He can handle a breaking ball, but he feasts on fastballs.
Early in his Yankee career, Nunez was a switch-hitter. He now hits exclusively from the right side. I believe that helps his overall offensive approach.
This season, Nunez hit .292 for New York, covering 100 plate appearances. He was an admirable replacement for both Jeter and Alex Rodriguez at various times this season. He stole 11 bases and was caught only once. He showed he could make good contact and put the bat on the ball consistently by striking out on only 12 occasions. But he walked only six times. Overall, Nunez was a positive factor at the plate.
Defensively this past season, Nunez made seven errors in 97 chances. He played second base, shortstop, third base, left field and right field, proving his value and flexibility as a true utility player.
Eduardo Nunez brings a capable bat to the postseason. He provides versatility as an insurance policy for a manager trying to overcome the loss of team leader Jeter.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.