St. Louis Cardinals 2024 Top 30 Prospects List: #30-21

Pete Hansen - Shriners Children's College Classic
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23. RHR Edwin Nunez (2023 level: High-A)

After a couple of underwhelming seasons to begin his professional career, Nunez enjoyed a 2023 breakout season in his age 21 season. The Cardinals signed Nunez for $525k in 2020, and the Dominican fireballer had a lot of hype to his name due to a fastball that touched 100 mph as an 18-year-old. Nunez was initially being developed as a starting pitcher and would pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, but his poor control forced the Cardinals to move him to a full-time one-inning reliever role. Although he's only 22 years old, I envision him as a relief pitcher in the long term.

Nunez took leaps and bounds with his control in 2023, improving his walk rate from 18.4% in his first two seasons to 10.8% last year. It changed his outlook from a non-prospect to one of the best relief pitching prospects in the system. Nunez is very athletic on the mound but struggles to repeat his delivery, which can hamper his ability to control his pitches. In 27.1 innings to begin his season at Palm Beach, Nunez struck out close to 30% of hitters while generating groundballs at a healthy clip.

He would pitch the rest of the season in Peoria, and while his ERA lowered from 3.62 to 3.22, his peripherals were much worse. His strikeout rate decreased more than 10% from 29.2% to 19.0%, and his homerun rate would follow suit. In each of the 4 home run occurrences for Peoria, sinkers were left over the heart of the plate. While Nunez throws extremely hard, the sinker isn't good enough to consistently make up for poor location, especially in hitter counts. Nunez continuing to improve his command and getting ahead of hitters will be paramount in his development as a prospect.

Speaking of his fastball, Nunez has two: a sinker and a four-seamer that he rarely uses. The sinker comes in with 13.3 inches of IVB and 14 inches of fade, which is a dead zone fastball (similar IVB and HB). I think he'd benefit from shelving his sinker and using his four-seamer as his primary fastball. Not only does his four-seamer profile as a better pitch in a vacuum, but it will also help to create a better tunnel for his changeup and slider, potentially making those pitches harder to pick up.

Nunez has always struggled to command his breaking stuff, and this could certainly help with that. In statcast-tracked games, Nunez threw 6 four-seamers (1 was a misread). 4 of the 5 pitches induced whiffs, and the other pitch resulted in a foul ball. Nunez averaged 17.4 inches of IVB and 9.4 inches of arm-side run on those pitches. Not only is that plus vertical break, but Nunez also throws from close to a 5' vertical release height, giving the pitch an extremely flat vertical approach angle.

Nunez has two interesting secondary offerings that can sometimes flash, but the command on them is very inconsistent. His changeup is his best secondary pitch at the moment. He has a feel for using the pitch against both lefties and righties and does an excellent job at inducing whiffs when he's able to locate it (45.8% whiff rate). He throws it in the high 80s, around 8 mph off his fastball, with a similar run and 7 fewer inches of IVB.

Nunez also throws a slurvy-breaking pitch with over 2800 rpm of spin. Much like the changeup, it induced whiffs at a high rate. The pitch sits in the high 70s to low 80s with 13.5 inches of sweep and -7 inches of IVB. I wish the pitch were a little harder, but I still think it can be a potential plus offering with better control. Nunez might have the highest ceiling out of any reliever on this list, but he must continue to refine his control. I would also like to see him throw his four-seamer more in 2024.