Nuñez soaks it all in en route to Futures Game MVP

July 9th, 2023

SEATTLE -- As Nasim Nuñez stepped to the plate for his first at-bat Saturday, the 22-year-old looked around T-Mobile Park, taking in a big league atmosphere for the first time in his young career.

“I took it all in,” Nuñez said. “It was amazing.”

There were thousands of people in the stands, an upper deck that players don’t get to see in the Minors, and a buzz that doesn’t tend to happen in Double-A. The last thing he looked at, however, was the dirt in the batter’s box, reminding him that at its core, a Major League field is still just a baseball field.

“That's why I looked at the dirt,” Nuñez said. “So I know where my feet are.”

It wasn’t long before Nuñez was using those feet to race to second base as he shot a bases-loaded double to left field, his opposite-field hit stretching the National League’s lead from 2-0 to 5-0.

That hit was enough to earn Nuñez the Larry Doby MVP Award at this year’s SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, making him the first Marlins prospect to take home that honor.

“What a day, what a game, what a moment for him,” said Marlins pitching prospect Patrick Monteverde, Nuñez’s teammate at Pensacola. “Much deserved.”

Nuñez was disappointed when he wasn’t included in last year’s Futures Game, so he didn’t allow himself to think about playing in this year’s event. When he was informed by his coaches that he had been selected, all Nuñez could say was, “That’s crazy.”

“It's an honor and something I worked for,” Nuñez said.

A 2019 second-round pick and Miami’s No. 20 prospect, Nuñez is known for his slick glove at shortstop and blazing speed, which helped him steal 70 bases in the Minors in 2022. A switch-hitter, his offensive numbers in 2023 haven’t been what he hoped for, slashing .211/.330/.289 with four home runs, 31 RBIs and 33 steals in 76 games at Double-A. Despite his struggles at times this season, the three-run double that earned him MVP honors didn’t surprise him at all.

“It’s baseball,” Nuñez said. “When I went up to the plate, it was just a regular at-bat. I did my breathing on deck, focused, picked up the ball out of the hand and was just ready to hit the ball. I think the first pitch he called a strike on me was a ball, but he threw it in the same spot and I swung this time and I got a double.”

The hit came against Yosver Zulueta, the Blue Jays’ hard-throwing No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

“Those were really tough shadows, he was facing a high-octane pitcher,” NL manager Raul Ibañez said. “He handled a really tough pitch, battled and shot a ball the other way. Tremendous at-bat; he’s really talented, but also inquisitive and curious and open and wants to learn and get better. I really enjoyed being around him.”

Monteverde, who recorded the final two outs for the NL on Saturday, expected his teammate to come through in that spot.

“The bigger the stage, the bigger he gets; he knows how to come up clutch,” Monteverde said. “He plays his game and sticks true to himself. He’s as confident in himself without being cocky or in an arrogant way as possible.”

After his double, Nuñez did what he does best, stealing third base. When he returned to the dugout after the inning, his teammates began talking about something he hadn’t even considered: the MVP award.

“MVP never crossed my mind until I got in the dugout and people started talking that talk like, ‘You're MVP!’” Nuñez said. “I was like, ‘All right, all right, all right. Chill.’”

Nuñez had both of his parents, his uncle, his girlfriend and other friends and family members in the stands Saturday, but it was the man whose image adorned his spikes -- Jose “Papito” Nuñez -- who inspired him the most.

“A week and a half ago, my grandfather passed away; he's the one who put the bat and ball in my hands,” Nuñez said. “‘Esta en la sangre’ is what he always used to say -- ‘It's in the blood.’

"He'd always yell at me, ‘Hit the ball, hit the ball! Uppercut, uppercut!’ He passed away from lung cancer and prostate cancer, so this game was really for him. Everything in the future is going to be for him, as well. I know he's always going to be with me. It's still hard, but you’ve got to go with it.

“I enjoyed every moment.”