Giants scoop up hard-throwing right-hander in Rule 5 Draft

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For the second consecutive year, the Giants took a hard-throwing but inexperienced right-hander in the Rule 5 Draft, hopeful he can be part of the solution in the bullpen. With the 14th pick in the draft, which is a way for passed-up prospects to find new opportunities, the Giants selected Mets right-hander Dedniel Nuñez, a 24-year-old who spent the 2019 season in A-ball. 

Ironically, the A's later selected Dany Jimenez, the young pitcher the Giants plucked from the Blue Jays at this time a year ago. Jimenez was unable to stick on the roster and was sent back to Toronto, but perhaps the Giants will find more luck with Nuñez, who was the 18th best prospect in New York's system, per MLB Pipeline

Nuñez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2016 and reached A-ball in 2019 before a shoulder injury ended his season in July. Per Pipeline, he sits in the low 90s with his fastball and can hit 96 mph, with consistently high spin rates. Nuñez complements that with a low 80s curveball and the Giants are hopeful he can add a consistent changeup. 

General manager Scott Harris said Nuñez was a standout in this fall's instructional league, hitting 97 mph. He's someone the Giants have eyed for a while. 

"He's always been a plus strike-thrower," Harris said. "(Instructs) increased our confidence in the playability of his fastball, especially up in the zone. I think we also expect some increased power to his secondary weapons as he transitions from the rotation to the bullpen."

Nuñez has a 4.47 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 37 minor league appearances, 30 of which have been starts. He made 16 appearances in 2019, with a 4.39 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 80 innings. He walked just 23 batters in those 80 innings, an encouraging sign for a young pitcher. He has primarily been a starter in the minors, will move to the bullpen next spring. The Giants are short on right-handed relief arms and are hopeful that Nuñez and perhaps other new additions can bolster that group. 

Prior to the Rule 5 Draft, the front office somewhat surprisingly added Kervin Castro and Gregory Santos to the 40-man roster, along with Camilo Doval, who pitched at the alternate site this summer. All three are right-handers who might have been scooped up Thursday morning had they not been protected. Like Nuñez, Castro and Santos showed good velocity, with both hitting 100 mph in Arizona. In recent weeks, team officials have mentioned Castro and Santos as candidates to switch from starting to relieving and potentially shoot through the system. 

"I think we're flexible in our evaluations of pitchers outside our system but also pitchers inside our system," Harris said. "Guys like Santos and Doval and Castro saw their stuff really spike up in 2020 and I think that will allow them to move as quickly as their stuff and strike-throwing would allow them to move. Given the trend lines, we're excited about continuing to help them develop and hopefully get them to the big leagues as quickly as we can."

The Giants will need to have Nuñez on their roster the whole season in order to keep his rights. If they're unable to do so, they must offer him back to the Mets. Since Farhan Zaidi took over, the Giants have taken four players in the first round of the Rule 5 Draft. The previous three -- Jimenez, Drew Ferguson and Travis Bergen -- were all sent back to their original teams, along with Connor Joe, who was a Rule 5 Draft pick the Giants acquired in spring training in 2019. 

Like Jimenez, Ferguson was actually taken again. The Mets picked him up from the Astros. Garrett Williams, a lefty the Giants sent to Anaheim to complete the Zack Cozart/Will Wilson trade, was taken by the Cardinals. Matt Krook, a former Giants prospect who was sent to Tampa Bay in the Evan Longoria deal, was scooped up by the Yankees. 

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In the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, the Giants took outfielder Vince Fernandez from the Rockies system. The 25-year-old from Livermore hit .257/.346/.543 in Double-A in 2019, with 15 homers in 230 at-bats. He hit 24 homers in the California League the year before.

"We're intrigued by the plus raw power that he showed," Harris said. "He's a guy that our scouts are really high on specifically for his tools. He has performed at every level of the Rockies system and has a strong track record against right-handed pitching."

The Giants later took right-handed reliever Ronnie Williams, who had a 4.24 ERA in Double-A for the Cardinals in 2019, with about a strikeout per inning, and Mitchell Tolman, a second baseman from the Mets. Coleman reached Triple-A in 2019 and has a .364 career on-base percentage in the minors. 

In the minor league portion of the draft, the Giants lost infielder Jalen Miller to the Braves, his hometown team. Miller, 23, was a third-round pick in 2015 but never got past Double-A. There were 74 players taken overall in the Rule 5 Draft and Miller was the only one from the Giants. 

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