COMMENTARY | Infielder Eduardo Nunez, at age 25, is rapidly becoming more suspect than prospect.
His offensive skills have some New York Yankees fans excited, but his defensive woes during his short stays in the major leagues have been a cause of consternation.
Of course, not everyone in the organization is as excited about Nunez's offensive gifts. General manager Brian Cashman tried to temper expectations for Nunez when he told Mike Raimondi of the New York Post on Thursday, Feb. 28, "I've had a lot of people say, you've got to get 500 at-bats for this guy, find a position for him as if he's some sort of offensive juggernaut."
Harsh? Perhaps. But just as big a concern for the Yankees has been Nunez's erratic play in the field.
Cashman told the Post that Nunez still projects as a shortstop and that his offensive abilities don't warrant a change to another position.
But in just 77 games at shortstop in the majors, Nunez has committed a whopping 18 errors in 242 chances. A fielding percentage of .926 isn't going to cut it at any level.
It's not as if he's been reminiscent of Brooks Robinson anywhere else in the infield, either. In 64 career games at third base, Nunez has handled 112 changes with nine errors-a .920 fielding percentage-and in 18 games and 43 chances at second base, he also has an error and a .977 fielding percentage.
Part of the problem, according for former big-league infielder and current Yankee first-base coach Mick Kelleher, is that Nunez's long arms lead to a long and erratic throwing motion.
Kelleher told George King of the Post on Friday that it's been a point of emphasis this spring.
"In my opinion and [manager] Joe [Girardi's] opinion, something had to change," Kelleher said. "To play shortstop you have to be an accurate thrower. It wasn't about catching the ball, it wasn't that."
Kelleher acknowledges that, at least in terms of strength, Nunez has an above-average arm. But accuracy has been another story.
"Before my arm action was long, never short," Nunez told the Post. "All my life it was long. Now it's short and it feels good so far."
Nunez made seven errors at three infield positions in 2012-four of them on throws.
Nunez also admitted he wasn't crazy about the change, at least not at first.
"It was uncomfortable," Nunez said. "Now, it's much better. I have worked on it since the first day of camp. The first few days of camp it was really bad. Now it feels better. I have made the adjustment."
Kelleher had worked with Nunez in the minor leagues several years ago, when he was the organization's roving infield instructor. But Nunez went back to throwing the old way when Kelleher joined Girardi's coaching staff in 2009.
Kelleher said Nunez pushed back some after the changes this spring.
"He said he was uncomfortable," Kelleher said. "I said, 'Well, did you expect anything else?'"
This is an important spring for Nunez, who is fighting with Jayson Nix for a roster spot, in part because the Yankees will have one of those 25 places filled by Travis Hafner, exclusively a designated hitter.
Nix can play second, short and third while Nunez is seen by the organization as a shortstop only.
But if he can add defensive stability to his arsenal of a decent bat and plus speed, Nunez might be able to survive the battle.
Phil Watson is a freelance journalist and commentator based in upper Michigan.
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