While his visiting Napa Silverados were trailing the Sonoma Stompers 9-4 in the eighth inning three weekends ago, infielder Malvin Nunez ran out to his post at second base and began to dance to the music blaring from the loudspeaker.
A non-English speaker, the 20-year-old Dominican Republic native couldn’t understand the words to the song he was hearing, but he could feel the rhythm.
The communication barrier may limit interaction with most of his teammates, but it doesn’t keep Nunez from being a good teammate. In fact, in small moments such as these, he can add to the team chemistry without saying a word.
“With baseball, you have to take it serious as your job,” Nunez said through teammate and fellow Dominican product Edward Perez, who was translating. “You also have to enjoy the moment, too, because that’s what it is, it’s a game. Our job is a game, so we have to enjoy it.”
Nunez is the youngest player in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, and Silverados manager Tito Fuentes Jr. said his “energy and youthfulness” bring an extra element to the team on and off the field.
“I also attribute that to just being Dominican,” said Fuentes, a native of the Dominican Republic himself. “We just play baseball light and we’re always dancing. For me, it’s normal.”
Nunez’s path to Napa is not normal, however. He started playing baseball at age 8 in the city of Cabrebra, on the northwest side of the island, after his cousin introduced him to the game. He fell in love with the game and was signed by the New York Mets organization at age 18 to be a part of their Dominican Summer League affiliate.
Nunez played 61 games with the DSL Mets at shortstop, batting .202 with 13 RBIs, seven doubles, two triples and 14 stolen bases across 198 plate appearances.
After his commitment with the Mets ended, Nunez found himself at a few tryouts and workouts in Miami, Florida, where he caught the eye of a few Major League Baseball scouts.
“Malvin came to me by way of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ independent baseball scout,” Fuentes explained. “He told me, ‘Hey, you should take a look at this kid. He’s young, he’s got a lot of tools and I think there’s something there.’ So I gave Malvin a call. He was at a workout at the Atlantic League and I was lucky enough to get him.”
The tools scouts see in his game are apparent when watching one of Nunez’s games. He’s a multi-positional infielder with good range, instincts, and a solid arm that is a great help to Napa’s defense.
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After his dancing gave way to focus in the bottom of the eighth in Sonoma, Nunez immediately made a diving grab to snatch a liner from the Stompers’ Jacob Barfield on what looked like a sure single.
His dance moves probably loosened up his legs just enough to make the explosive play.
Nunez’s tools don’t stop with his fielding prowess, however. With a thin, 5-foot-11, 152-pound frame, he doesn’t generate much power but makes up for it in other aspects. He can hit for contact to all fields, draw a lot of walks with a keen eye, and is a threat to steal any base with plus speed.
He played in only nine of the Silverados’ first 12 games this season due to an ailment in his right shoulder. But he reached base at least once in eight of those nine outings, while providing the Silverados with stellar defense.
Nunez isn’t alienated from his teammates by his inability to speak English – not with fellow Dominicans such as Carlos Guzman, Perez and Fuentes surrounding him, as well as starting shortstop and Venezuelan native Willie Salas.
Third baseman Dominic Bethancourt wishes he could cross the language barrier to get to know Nunez better, though.
“He’s a funny guy. Plays loose. I wish I knew more about him. If he spoke English, he’d probably be one of my best friends,” Bethancourt said.
As Nunez continues to develop his skills in Napa with the keen eye of MLB scouts watching, his English skills may blossom with his game. He said that while he can’t yet speak the language, he can understand it – he feels the rhythm.
Nunez’s goal is to make it to the major leagues someday, but for now, he’s just happy to be living in Napa and playing the game he loves.
“I like Napa a lot. There’s a lot of nice people over here,” he said. “I really like our teammates and I’m happy to be here.”
Nunez’s development as a prospect and as a young man could be well worth chronicling as he continues his baseball journey.