Nunez Excels In Familiar Surroundings





DETROIT—Last season, Florida State League managers rated Gustavo Nunez as the league's best defensive shortstop.

So why is the 23-year-old native of the Dominican Republic spending a second season with the Tigers' high Class A team in Lakeland?

It's simple: After a breakout season in 2009, Nunez struggled at the plate with the Flying Tigers last year.

"We need to find out if he can hit," farm director Mike Rojas said. "We know he can play shortstop, but he struggled with the bat last year. This gives him a chance to start figuring things out with the bat."

He might be starting to do just that. In his first 25 games with Lakeland this season, Nunez hit .349/.397/.538 and scored 19 runs. Among his 37 hits in that span were five doubles, three triples and three home runs. He drew eight walks while striking out just 13 times in his first 106 at-bats.

Signed in 2007, Nunez had a huge breakthrough with low Class A West Michigan two years ago with a .315/.360/.425 season. That year he finished second in the Midwest League in average while tying for second with 10 triples and tying for third with 45 steals.

But there were warning signs that year: Nunez drew just 25 walks in more than 500 plate appearances, struck out 62 times and was caught stealing on 25 different occasions.

Last year those problems became more noticeable as Nunez limped to a .222/.263/
.281 season. His strikeouts rose to 93, while he drew just 21 walks in 572 plate appearances.

Among the plusses for Nunez was that he was caught stealing fewer times—he was foiled in just eight of 41 attempts—and his defense remained strong.

So his charge this season was simple: show a better bat.

"He's a guy who needs to take advantage of his speed," Rojas said. "He needs to find ways to get on base, and so far he has done that."

TIGER TALES

• Lefthander Drew Smyly, a second-round pick last year, was placed on the disabled list in late April with arm soreness. Smyly was 0-1, 4.08 in three starts for Lakeland.

• The Tigers signed Australian shortstop Aaron Sayers. Sayers, who will turn 17 on May 25, is a product of the Essendon club that is best known for producing former major league pitcher Graeme Lloyd.