Rox expecting more offense from catchers
Veteran Díaz, rookie Nuñez bring upside to Colorado's lineup
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bud Black heads into 2021 possibly possessing an advantage that’s been rare since he became the Rockies’ manager in 2017 -- offense from his catchers, Elias Díaz and Dom Nuñez.
Over his four seasons, Black has seen his catchers post a .659 OPS -- 25th among all teams and higher than only the Padres (.651) among National League teams. With the notable exception of 46 games of Jonathan Lucroy, who posted a .310/.429/.437 slash line after being acquired from the Rangers before the 2017 Trade Deadline, catcher has been a defensive position in Colorado.
Last year, the bulk of the playing time went to two catchers now elsewhere -- Tony Wolters (Pirates), who hit .230, and Drew Butera (Rangers), who hit .154. There is nothing wrong with defense. Lucroy was brought in because of Wolters’ inexperience in ’17, but Chris Iannetta and Wolters were more leaders and pitch-callers while helping the ’18 squad to the postseason.
But different talents and a different team mean the Rockies are asking Díaz and Nuñez to contribute more with the bat. With Nolan Arenado dealt to the Cardinals and David Dahl now with the Rangers, the Rockies need to lengthen the lineup’s production -- a problem, even in the postseason years of 2017 and 2018 -- is greater.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Black said. “With potentially Elias and Dom, you’d like to think there’s more offense there, and it can really be a productive spot for us.”
Black still believes partnering with the pitching staff is a catcher’s No. 1 job. Díaz sometimes had sporadic playing time with the Pirates (2015-19), and didn’t play regularly with the Rockies last season until the final month. Nuñez is a rookie who played 16 games in 2019 and spent 2020 at the alternate training site. They’ll be asked to learn the defensive nuances while providing much-needed offense.
This spring, the right-handed-hitting Díaz is 10-for-22 with a home run and a .455/.478/.727 slash line as one of the Rockies’ most productive players. Nuñez has been right there with him, at .412/.444/.706 with a homer and a triple.
Their histories aren’t long, but they include hitting highlights. Díaz hit .286 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in just 82 games with the Pirates in 2018. In ’19, Nuñez knocked 17 home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque, along with two homers and three doubles in his brief time with the Rockies that season.
They are working together to shorten the learning curve. They spent time together at the alternate training site, and locker next to each other this spring. Nuñez, from Elk Grove, Calif., speaks some Spanish, and Díaz, from Maracaibo, Venezuela, is comfortable enough with English that he did a Zoom call with the local media with little translation help and communicates easily with Nuñez.
They tend to play on alternate days, so they watch each other and share information on pitchers.
And they talk batting.
“I balance it by keeping them separate – when it’s time to catch and do the work, it’s time to catch,” Nuñez said.
So does Díaz.
“The rep of the Rockies’ offense is a little bit light on the offense," Díaz said. "Both of us are strong hitters and we want to bring a bat to the lineup.”