Malcol m Nunez
The Pirates recently traded Carlos Santana, which leaves a gap at first base. However, the Pirates could soon fill that gap, both in the present and future. One of their top prospects is first baseman Malcolm Nunez. Nunez was the second player who was included in the Jose Quintana trade and could soon make his big league debut.
Acquired via trade alongside Johan Oviedo last trade deadline for Jose Quintana, Nunez made a great first impression with the Pirates last season, batting .280/.385/.475 with a .378 wOBA, and 134 wRC+ for Altoona and Indianapolis. Nunez had a 22.7% strikeout rate but an impressive 14.7% walk rate and quality .195 isolated slugging percentage. It’s not as if Nunez just caught fire with the Pirates, as he owned a .949 OPS, .409 wOBA, and 136 wRC+ from June up through the trade.
Although Nunez got off to a great start to his Pirates career, that heat didn’t last until April, as he ended the first month of the season batting just a horrendous .188/.231/.259 with a .225 wOBA and 16 wRC+. However, that arctic cold start didn’t last, as he hit .357/.478/.536, owned a .457 wOBA, and 162 wRC+ through June. While this put Nunez on pace to make his Major League debut within the very near future, that would have to be put on hold.
Nunez suffered a shoulder impingement that would keep him out for nearly two whole months. Nunez has only recently returned and is still getting stretched back out. But the layoff hasn’t seemed to affect his performance. While Nunez has only played in four rehab games and has 16 plate appearances, he also has five walks (two doubles), six walks, and zero strikeouts.
Nunez has a relatively high offensive ceiling. He has plus raw power and has never been too prone to striking out. Plus, he’s consistently been good at drawing walks. Nunez struggled to lift the ball as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals’ system but made some adjustments once he was sent to Pittsburgh. Although Nunez was primarily a third baseman for the first handful of years of his pro career, Nunez has seen time at first base much more frequently in 2022 and 2023. He has sharpened up his defensive prowess to his credit, and he has an arm that could play at third base. But it might only be enough to be an average defensive first baseman rather than someone who could regularly play third base.
Nunez would also have to overcome Ke’Bryan Hayes and Jared Triolo to get regular reps at the hot corner long-term. Hayes is arguably the best defensive third baseman in the league, and Triolo was the Pirates’ best defensive minor league infielder prior to his promotion. If Hayes didn’t exist, Triolo might be competing for the National League third base Gold Glove.
Regardless, Nunez is on pace to make his Major League debut sometime in August. The Pirates will have a hole in the first base depth chart, even if they do end up keeping Ji-Man Choi. Nunez certainly has a chance at cementing himself as the Pirates’ long-term first baseman, and his chance to do so could start within the coming weeks.