Why Dedniel Nuñez might have more staying power than past Rule 5 picks

Why Dedniel Nuñez might have more staying power than past Rule 5 picks
Baseball

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Why Nuñez might be different than past Giants Rule 5 picks originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

It made sense for the Giants to take two Rule 5 Draft picks in Farhan Zaidi’s first offseason in charge and add another one to the roster the next spring. The 40-man wasn’t deep and the Giants were looking for any possible way to find future contributors. The same was true last year, when they snuck Rule 5 pick Dany Jimenez onto their Opening Day roster because they had four additional spots to play with.

But the 2021 Giants are deeper than the group that worked out at Scottsdale Stadium the past two springs, especially in the bullpen. In theory, they should have no need or space for a Rule 5 pick, but those thoughts go out the window when team officials watch right-hander Dedniel Nuñez throw. 

The Giants scooped the 24-year-old up from the New York Mets in December, hoping that a transition to the bullpen would unlock his potential. Nuñez has thrown well in bullpen sessions and made his debut Monday, hitting 98 mph while giving up a couple of hits in a scoreless inning against the Texas Rangers. 

Jimenez made just two appearances for the Giants last year before being sent back to the Toronto Blue Jays, but it sounds like Nuñez might have more staying power, even with the Giants dealing with a 26-man roster and likely just eight bullpen spots. 

“I think at this point we feel more confident than we did last year at this time with Dany Jimenez, and that’s just honest, it’s no knock on Dany,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s just that Nuñez has come out and attacked with strikes and he’s kind of showing us the stuff that made him attractive to us in the first place.”

Nuñez has not pitched above High-A and the Giants would have to keep him on their roster in a month to avoid sending him back to the Mets, but it’s not too difficult to slip a big arm into your initial bullpen. The hard part is keeping someone around if he has ups and downs. Outfielder Drew Ferguson didn’t make it out of camp with the Giants in 2019 and Connor Joe lasted just 15 at-bats. Left-hander Travis Bergen struggled in 21 appearances before the Giants gave up on the experiment.

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Throwing 98 mph will help, and Kapler said Nuñez’s fastball gets good carry through the zone. The Giants have adjusted the grip on his slider in an effort to help him throw it for more strikes. Nuñez has the stuff to stick as the last man in Kapler’s bullpen, and staying in the zone will allow the Giants to be patient and use him in low-leverage spots without the fear that they’ll end up just calling for another reliever. 

Kapler was encouraged by Monday’s debut, saying it wasn’t perfect, but the stuff and ability to attack the zone “was all there today.”

“We’re seeing several things with Dedniel,” he said. “The first one is the stuff, right? The velocity, the carry, the characteristics of the fastball, and then the slider shape, but also, he’s landing the sliders for strikes.”

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