Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Malcom Nuñez could give the team a consistently good first baseman, something they haven’t had in nearly 100 years.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a good and consistent first baseman in quite a while. The last Pirate first baseman to have three consecutive seasons with an fWAR of at least 2.0 (which is average for single-season WAR) was George Grantham, who put up an fWAR of at least +2.3 in his seven years with the Pirates from 1925 to 1931. The last Pirate first baseman to have at least 2.0 fWAR in two seasons was Jason Thompson in 1982-1983.
Needless to say, there’s been a lack of consistency at the position for the Pittsburgh Pirates for a very long time, nearly 100 years. But, the team does have a first base prospect in the works that may be able to solve this long-lasting problem. That’s Malcom Nuñez.
Nuñez was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline in the José Quintana/Chris Stratton deal. Nuñez was in the midst of his career-best season, batting .255/.360/.463 with a .366 wOBA and 110 wRC+. Nuñez smacked 17 home runs with a .208 isolated slugging percentage, both of which were single-season career bests.
Since his trade, Nuñez has been even better. Entering play on Sunday he had 99 PAs in the Pirate organization, hitting for a .310/.384/.536 slash line with 5 home runs. Nuñez has a .395 wOBA and 146 wRC+ for the Altoona Curve. Nuñez’s increased production has been a result of his .339 batting average on balls in play. With the Cardinal Double-A affiliate, he had just a .278 BAbip. His current mark for the Curve is much close to what he had from 2018 to 2021 (.337).
Nunez kept up a similar strikeout rate, only going down on strike three 20.2% of the time for Altoona (20.3% of the time for Springfield). His walk rate has decreased from 13.7% to 11.1%; however, both marks are still above average. Nunez has consistently posted good plate discipline results throughout his pro career.
Nunez has been dominant with the stick dating back to June. His last 288 PAs have led to a .306/.379/.561 slash line, .404 wOBA, and 140 wRC+. Nuñez has a solid 10.6% walk rate and 21.2% strikeout rate during this time as well. However, what is most impressive is his power output. Nuñez has a .255 ISO while hitting 19 home runs. That’s a pace of 40 dingers across 600 plate appearances.
He’s done this all in his age-21 campaign. The average age of pitchers at the Double-A level is 24.5 years old. Nuñez has steadily been rising through the minor leagues, and with how he has swung the bat at Double-A, especially since the trade, him seeing a few games at Triple-A this year isn’t out of the question, considering that Altoona’s season ends before Indy’s season does.
Nuñez has been a quality hitter at a young age at one of the upper levels of the minor leagues. Nuñez should see an ample amount of time at first base in the majors for the Pittsburgh Pirates, given their lack of current quality options (outside of Michael Chavis but only against southpaws). Nuñez’s glove may not be the best, but he should be able to get the job done. They could always sub-in Chavis late in games if worst comes to worst.
Nuñez could consistently provide a .260-.280 average and 25+ home runs a season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Along with that, he’ll draw plenty of walks and avoid striking out a bunch. Nunez may be ready to take the reins at first base next year. If he can give the team a wRC+ in the 110-130 range and playable defense at first base, he could be the first Pirate in nearly 100 years to give the team consecutive productive seasons.