Nuñez eager to start new chapter with Nats

December 10th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato's Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Since 2019,  had pursued his Major League aspirations as a member of the Marlins organization. Drafted by Miami as a second-round pick out of high school, Nuñez reached Double-A last season with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

This season he has the chance to achieve those big league goals with a new club, as the Nationals selected him with the fifth overall pick on Wednesday in the 2023 Rule 5 Draft, held during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

“It was bittersweet,” Nuñez said. “Coming up through the Marlins organization, I created so many bonds with my teammates, the coaches, and even the medical staff and everybody else that was there. So it was kind of a wave of emotions of not wanting to leave, but knowing that there’s an opportunity out there for me to pursue my dreams.”

Nuñez, who was ranked as the Marlins’ No. 16 prospect by MLB Pipeline, entered the Nats’ system at No. 23 behind catcher Drew Millas. He brings versatility that Washington covets -- the ability to play the middle infield with a best fit at shortstop, as well as the speed to pinch-run.

“[We] were really trying to get as many toolsy players up the middle of the field as possible,” said general manager Mike Rizzo. “And we thought this was a way to get some kind of an elite type of tools player onto the roster.”

An area of emphasis for Nuñez will be improving his production at the plate. Last season he hit .224 with a .627 OPS, five home runs and 52 stolen bases in 125 games. The Nats lauded him for his plate discipline; he was tied for fourth in Double-A in walks, with 87.

“We think that there’s some upside with the bat,” said Rizzo. “The bat’s far behind the defense, but [he’s] a guy that we think has more bat in there.”

Said Nuñez: “It’s just reps. It’s just trusting in your ability and swinging at good pitches, because I’m a big believer that if you get the right pitch and you are on time and put any type of swing on it, you have a chance to get a hit.”

Nuñez sees being picked by the Nationals as the beginning of a new chapter. When a player is selected in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, the team pays $100,000. If that player does not stay on the active big league roster for the entire season, he must be offered back to his former club for $50,000.

“That's a great opportunity for him,” said Marlins president of baseball operations Peter Bendix. “That's the cool thing about the Rule 5 Draft: It provides an opportunity for players to go show what they can do in a new organization. It's difficult to stick all year, but some guys are able to do it, and he'll have his chance.”          

When Nuñez reports to Nats Spring Training in West Palm Beach, Fla., he will find familiar faces. He has known shortstop CJ Abrams since high school, and he played in the 2023 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game – for which he was named MVP -- with third baseman Brady House and outfielder James Wood. In addition, he is friends with Christian Cairo, the son of Nats bench coach Miguel Cairo.

Nuñez will also see his former club, as the Marlins’ training facilities are close by, and the teams are frequent Grapefruit League opponents.

"It's tough,” said Hector Crespo, the Marlins’ director of Minor League operations. “You hate losing good players but even better people, and we've had Nas, we developed Nas. I'm really close, and I love the kid. I'm so happy for him that he gets this opportunity. Hate that he's no longer ours, but just so happy for the person in general. So I wish him nothing but the best, love him to death, and he's going to be great."

Shortly after Nuñez was selected by Washington, he already was thinking ahead to how he can improve to earn a role on his new squad.

“There’s still work to be done,” Nuñez said. “It’s most definitely something. I’m sitting here with my family and they’re excited, I’m excited. It’s something in this moment right now, but as tomorrow hits, it’s the same thing -- getting back in the weight room, getting back ready to prepare myself to play 162 games.”