The San DIego Padres promoted outfield prospect Reymond Fuentes to the major leagues this week. A year ago, Fuentes was struggling badly in Double-A and looked like a potential prospect bust, but 2013 has revived his career and brought him to the big leagues. Can he stay there? Let's take a look.
Reymond Fuentes was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round in 2009, from high school in Manati, Puerto Rico. The 28th overall pick in the draft, he hit .290/.331/.379 with nine steals in 40 games for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox after signing. Skipping the New York-Penn League, he moved up to Low-A Greenville in the South Atlantic League in 2010, hitting .270/.328/.377 with 42 steals and good reviews for his defense.
Fuentes was traded to the Padres in the big December '10 Adrian Gonzalez deal. San Diego sent High-A Lake Elsinore in the California League in 2011, where he hit .275/.342/.369 with 41 steals. Moving up to Double-A San Antonio for 2012, he was overmatched by Texas League pitching, hitting just .218/.301/.302. He drew 52 walks and stole 35 bases in 44 attempts, but he also fanned 133 times in 473 at-bats, an unacceptably awful strikeout rate considering the complete lack of power production.
The Padres logically sent Fuentes back to San Antonio for 2013 to try again. He performed much more effectively, hitting .316/.396/.441, drawing 41 walks with 71 strikeouts in 345 at-bats. He stole 29 bases. Promoted to Triple-A Tucson, he put up a ridiculous .418/.515/.491 line in 14 games, with a 10/10 BB/K in 55 at-bats, plus six more steals, before moving up to the big leagues this week.
Fuentes is a left-handed hitter and thrower, listed at 6-0, 160, born February 12, 1991. Pure athleticism and speed are his best attributes. Although his arm isn't very strong, he gets good reviews for his outfield defense due to his plus range and solid instincts, though he'll make an occasional gaffe of inexperience. The Padres have played him at all three outfield positions this year to enhance his versatility. He is an aggressive and dangerous baserunner who can be a significant stolen base threat if he gets on base enough.
Getting on base has been a problem at times. His pitch recognition was substandard early in his career and he would often chase pitches outside the strike zone. His eye has gradually improved: his walk rates have trended upward every year, but he was unable to make sufficient contact against Double-A pitching last season.
That got a lot better this year, with a reduction in his strikeout rate, much better scouting reports about his strike zone judgment, and a 40-point increase in isolated power. His numbers after his promotion to Tucson were goosed by an unsustainable .511 BABIP, but the general consensus is that he made real improvements in his hitting approach this year, combining with physical maturity to produce much better results: .330/.413/.448 combined at the two levels.
Generally a line drive spray hitter, Fuentes is never going to be a big home run guy, although interestingly five of his six homers this season were pulled to right field. The hope is that he'll have enough wippy strength to be a threat for doubles and triples, along with the high batting average/OBP and plenty of steals. If his bat maxes out, he can be a regular center fielder. If it doesn't, his speed and defense should still make him useful as a fourth outfielder.