Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential of a Malcolm Nuñez Debut in 2023

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Pittsburgh Pirates top first baseman prospect Malcom Nuñez will make his debut in 2023, but when will he get to the major leagues?

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired what is now their best first base prospect at this year’s trade deadline when they traded José Quintana and Chris Stratton to the St. Louis Cardinals for a two-player package. The top first base prospect in that deal was Malcom Nuñez. Nuñez reached Triple-A in 2022, so when will fans see the slugger in the majors?

Overall on the season, Nuñez had a decent season in which he batted .262/.367/.466 with a .370 wOBA and 117 wRC+. Nuñez hit 23 home runs in 493 plate appearances, finishing the campaign with a .204 isolated slugging percentage. His overall numbers were good between the Cardinal and Pirate minor league affiliates, but he was great from June onward.

Nuñez’s last 337 plate appearances saw the prospect bat .294/.380/.533. He had a robust .239 isolated slugging percentage, crushing 20 home runs in less than 350 trips to the dish. Nuñez walked at a healthy 12.2% walk rate with a solid, albeit unspectacular 22% strikeout rate. Still. Nuñez’s wOBA approached 400 in this stretch, sitting at .396, with his wRC+ clocking in at 136.

After being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, his numbers looked pretty similar to what he had done through June. Nunez had a .859 OPS, .378 wOBA, and 135 wRC+. He only played five games at Triple-A at the very end of the season. Nuñez did show a fair amount of talent, hitting a home run and drawing four walks in just 17 plate appearances, though he also struck out five times.

Other than how he performs at Triple-A to start 2023, there are a few factors that affect when Nuñez will reach the major leagues. The first is how the Pirates will utilize first base and designated hitter to open the year.

The Pirates have a few options to start at designated hitter to open the 2023 season. Rodolfo Castro could see some time there to mitigate his so-so defense. The Pirates could promote Blake Sabol in order to get him some time at designated hitter. Maybe Canaan Smith-Njigba will see some time at designated hitter. First base, on the other hand, has basically no options. Once the Pirates protect Nuñez from the Rule 5 draft, he’ll be the best first baseman on the 40-man roster.

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Unless the Pirates find a first baseman through trade or free agency, Nuñez may see the majors by early may. He’ll already be part of the 40-man roster by then and at Triple-A. If he is performing well at that point, there’s no reason not to bring him up once the Pirates gain the extra contract year, especially if the Pirates do not find a decent external option at first base.