Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Don’t count on Eduardo Nunez becoming the next great Yankees shortstop



A funny thing happened while Derek Jeter was on the disabled list with a calf injury, as the Yankees went 14-4 without him in the lineup and fill-in shortstop Eduardo Nunez hit .339 with a .906 OPS.


Jeter’s ongoing decline combined with Nunez’s impressive work in his absence has an awful lot of Yankees fans thinking ahead to the future of the shortstop position in New York, but before anyone gets too carried away allow me to burst a few bubbles: Nunez isn’t that great.


Sure, he’s 24 years old and played well in Jeter’s place, but youth and a nice two-week stretch does not a future star make. Prior to Nunez’s strong run filling in for Jeter he hit just .255 with a .293 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage in 63 games as a big leaguer and his minor-league track record isn’t a whole lot more encouraging.


Nunez has hit .274 with a .318 on-base percentage and .369 slugging percentage in 656 games as a minor leaguer, including .289 with a .340 OBP and .381 SLG in 118 games at Triple-A. That works out to a .687 OPS in the minors overall and a .721 OPS at Triple-A. In the middle of the worst season of his career, Jeter currently has a .710 OPS against big-league pitching.


Nunez has also flashed 20-steal speed and shown signs of improvement that you’d expect from a young player, but at 24 years old he’s not that young and there’s little in his track record to suggest an upside beyond “solid regular.” Obviously even “solid regular” is plenty valuable in a 24-year-old shortstop, but there’s also a strong chance Nunez tops out as “utility man.”


Either way, he’s far from the type of long-term solution optimistic Yankees fans started dreaming about during the past two weeks and may not even be good enough to eventually push Jeter off shortstop. Assuming, of course, that Jeter will some day cease playing shortstop for the Yankees. You know, in 2050 or so.