The Mariners announced their non roster (that is, players not on the 40 man) invitations to spring training. Among those was a new free agent, right-handed pitcher Jhonny Nunez. Nunez is a 27 year old who spent 2012 with the Durham Bulls, mainly as a reliever.
Nunez was originally signed by the LA Dodgers in 2006 out of the Dominican Republic. However, he was traded later that year to the Nationals and then traded to the Yankees in 2008. He was then part of the Nick Swisher trade to the Chicago White Sox, and there is where he reached the Majors. He would throw in just 7 games in the MLB in 2009, and that is the only time he has pitched in the Majors. At least back then, he had a solid fastball (93.1 MPH average) along with a frequent slider at 86 MPH with an occasional changeup at the same velocity.
In 2012, he pitched in 37 games for the Rays’ AAA and really struggled, with a 6.47 FIP, 5.48 SIERA, and 5.20 kwERA. While his strikeout rate was a somewhat acceptable 16%, he really struggled to throw strikes, walking nearly as many batters as he struck out. He threw strikes just 57% of the time (league average was 62.4%) and according to GameDay data collected by Minor League Central, he struggled to get hitters to swing at pitches outside of the zone. This suggests either a lack of stuff or a complete lack of command/control. While pitches per plate appearance and strikeouts/success have a positive correlation, Nunez threw a lot of pitches (4.24 per plate appearance) and didn’t get strikeouts. He also didn’t pitch after June 30th.
While he has had success against right-handers over the past couple of years, Nunez has really struggled against left-handed batters. Since there isn’t much room for him on the Major League team (as of now, the Mariners have plenty of right-handed relievers, or relievers in general), Nunez will probably start in AAA. He has made starts throughout his career, but the large platoon splits make it unlikely that he would have much value in the Tacoma rotation (especially since the rotation looks much better than last year, with Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Andrew Carraway, Brandon Maurer, and D.J. Mitchell/ Taijuan Walker projected as the starters for Tacoma).
Here is some video that is a little old, but it gives a good look at his pitching mechanics:
As you can see, his delivery is quite messy in the video, and it is some minor miracle that he has started so many games in the minors and not be slotted into a relief role early and permanently. Obviously I wanted to see some more current video of Nunez, so I watched one of his outings on MiLB.TV. The delivery is basically the same if not a little worse, especially when it comes to the arm drag. He was hitting 92 MPH, but got down to 90 MPH on his fastball. Nunez’ 80 MPH changeup has obviously lost speed (got up to 82 MPH), but it still has quite a bit of drop and a little glove side tail. He was missing a lot arm side with his fastball when I was watching him, but he did do a decent job of keeping it low and he had a little bit of run on it. I didn’t see him throw the slider, which was interesting considering he threw so many in his short MLB career. He may have ditched it, or he may have not been throwing it the outing I watched.
Nunez has clearly lost the stuff that made him part of trades in the past and got him to the Majors (for an albeit short time). His command, which has never been great (9.2 BB% in his minor league career) also completely went away in 2012. Whether he will get it back or not is indeterminable, but the delivery certainly doesn’t help. It is nearly impossible to believe that he can help the Mariners in 2013 unless the time off helps his velocity/command. Winter League stats mean nearly nothing, but he has been successful in the DWL this season, with a shiny ERA along with a 4.2 kwERA (approximately, as I had to estimate actual batters faced) and 3.69 FIP in 27 relief appearances (he didn’t get many grounders in AAA last year, and isn’t getting many in the Dominican either). My bet is that Mariner scouts saw something in Nunez’ Dominican appearances and thought there might be something there. It is a similar approach that brought Oliver Perez to the team (though that doesn’t mean we should expect Nunez to have that kind of success in 2012). My guess is that (unless he falls on his face in spring training) he will begin the year in AAA Tacoma as a reliever.