Slugger Renato Nunez signs minor-league deal with Detroit Tigers, could fill 1B void

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Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·3 min read
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The Detroit Tigers might have just picked up the steal of the offseason.

Slugger Renato Nunez signed a minor-league contract Wednesday with an invitation to big-league spring training, the team announced. The 26-year-old, designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles in November, crushed 31 home runs in 151 games in 2019.

Last year, Nunez, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound infielder, hit .256 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs across 51 games. He racked up 43 homers and 121 RBIs in 203 games to go with a .247 batting average over the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

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Baltimore Orioles' Renato Nunez runs the bases after hitting a three-run home run off New York Mets starting pitcher Ariel Jurado during the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Baltimore. Orioles' Cedric Mullins and Jose Iglesias scored on the home run. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Baltimore Orioles' Renato Nunez runs the bases after hitting a three-run home run off New York Mets starting pitcher Ariel Jurado during the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Baltimore. Orioles' Cedric Mullins and Jose Iglesias scored on the home run. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Without a true first baseman on the roster, Nunez could fill a void if he breaks camp with the Tigers. In five MLB seasons — for the Oakland Athletics (2016-17), Texas Rangers (2018) and Orioles (2018-20) — he has 140 games as a designated hitter, 81 as a third baseman, 52 as a first baseman and eight as a left fielder.

Tigers manager AJ Hinch will be forced to use a combination of 37-year-old Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario, Niko Goodrum and Jonathan Schoop if Nunez doesn't make the team. Cabrera used to play first base daily, but his body won't allow him to take a full-time role.

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Candelario played 43 of his 52 games at first base in 2020, but he is better suited at third base. Meanwhile, Goodrum is a super-utility player; Schoop has never played first base, yet the Tigers are optimistic he can make the transition if necessary.

Nunez posted a 12.1% barrel rate in 2020, putting him in the top 50 of MLB players. In this category, he ranked higher than Christian Yelich, Kyle Lewis, Justin Turner, J.D. Martinez, Manny Machado and Paul Goldschmidt, to name a few. He was one spot below George Springer, who signed a six-year, $150 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays this winter.

Also, Nunez logged a 10.7% barrel rate in 2019.

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Yet he struggles to take walks and limit strikeouts.

Nunez struck out 64 times last season and only drew 17 walks in his 216 plate appearances, giving him a 29.6% strikeout rate and a below-average 7.9% walk rate. His strikeout rate was the 40th-worst among qualified hitters. His on-base percentage was .311 and .324 in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Despite the strikeout troubles, Nunez gives the Tigers a power bat at first base. And he is under team control through the 2024 season, meaning his low-cost addition this offseason could pay off in the long-term.

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Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Feb. 17 to Lakeland, Florida, with the first full-team workout taking place Feb. 22. Games begin Feb. 26 against Southeastern University before the Grapefruit League schedule kicks off the next day.

The Tigers have now signed six players to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training: Nunez, infielder Greg Garcia, left-hander Derek Holland, right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, lefty Ian Krol and catcher Dustin Garneau.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers sign slugging first baseman Renato Nunez to minors deal