Detroit Tigers Sign Renato Núñez to Minor-League Deal

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Renato Nunez hits a double against the Atlanta Braves: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Renato Nunez hits a double against the Atlanta Braves: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Tigers have signed veteran infielder Renato Núñez to a minor-league deal and offered him an invitation to spring training camp. The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen first hinted at this potential signing on Monday afternoon:

And today the club made the signing official, as well as the addition of veteran outfielder Greg Garcia:

The Tigers will be able to open two spots on their 40-man roster once spring training begins by placing pitching prospects Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz on the 60-day Injured List. Núñez and Garcia, along with pitchers Erasmo Ramirez and Derek Holland, are strong candidates to join the roster.

So let’s learn about the Detroit Tigers latest signing and see what makes him a likely addition to the 2021 team.

Who is Renato Núñez?

Renato Núñez was a highly regarded international prospect out of Venezuela, and the Oakland Athletics signed him for $2.2 million on July 2, 2010. He followed the typical path for high-value international signings, spending 2011 in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, and then making his stateside debut in the rookie-level Arizona League in 2012.

Núñez began to break out a bit in 2013 when he hit .258/.301/.423 with 19 home runs as a 19-year-old. Those 19 bombs were good enough for fifth in the pitcher-friendly in Midwest League, but he outdid himself in 2014, hitting .279, and tying for fourth in the more accommodating California League by bashing 29 homers.

A calf injury held him out for the first month of action at Double-A Midland in 2015, but he hit .278 and still managed to finish second in the Texas League with 18 home runs in just 93 games. Núñez’s power remained (23 HR) in Triple-A Nashville in 2016, but his batting average cratered to just .228. Nevertheless, he made his MLB debut for the Athletics that September and eventually recorded his first big-league hit against Cole Hamels.

He spent most of 2017 back in Triple-A, seeing spikes in his power as well as his walk and strikeout rates, and he again joined Oakland late in this season. This time he managed to record his first MLB home run:

By 2018 Renato Núñez had been definitively passed as a prospect by both Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, and Oakland designated him for assignment. He was claimed by the Texas Rangers, but they, too, waived him after he went just 6-for-36 (.167) with one home run and one double in 13 games.

Then it was Baltimore’s turn, but this time Núñez stuck on the roster, batting .275/.336/.445 over 60 games while mostly playing third base. He was a regular for Baltimore in 2019, batting .244 with 31 home runs, but he largely served as their designated hitter. He spent a larger portion of his 2020 season in the field, with 32 games at first or third, and just 21 as DH.

Núñez saw his batting average, walk rate, and isolated power numbers all climb in 2020, but his strikeout rate also jumped by 6% and his average exit velocity dropped dramatically. Then, in a mildly surprising move, the Orioles released him.

Renato Núñez Scouting Report

The book on Renato Núñez has largely been the same since he was an amateur. He has always shown an impressive ability to get his bat on the ball, and he consistently produces plus raw power, particularly to the pull field.

So far that has all come to fruition. He’s been an aggressive hitter in pro ball who maintained above-average power production, below-average walk rates, and until last season, roughly league average strikeout rates.

Unfortunately, all of scouts’ concerns about Núñez have come true as well. He has a strong arm, but evaluators were always skeptical about his ability to stick at third base because of his poor athleticism and stiff hands. His defense at first base isn’t much better, he doesn’t add value on the base paths, and in 2020 pitchers determined his aggressive approach makes him very susceptible to sliders.

Our Take on Renato Núñez

Renato Núñez is the textbook definition of a replacement player. But the Detroit Tigers are very bad, and they have a severe lack of power in their lineup. We think there’s a strong chance Núñez will make their opening day roster and spend much of the season as the Tigers’ first baseman, where he will likely add some much-needed pop, but very little else.

Renato Núñez Projections