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Modesto Nuts start to turn the corner as Rockies prospect Josh Fuentes seeks versatility

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News, notes, and quotes around the California League's Modesto Nuts for the week that went down from July 17-23, 2016.

Josh Fuentes is seeking versatility with the Rockies.
Josh Fuentes is seeking versatility with the Rockies.
Jen Mac Ramos

Bakersfield, Calif. -- Believe it or not, the Modesto Nuts had the very best five-game stretch of their entire season this week when they went 4-1 with a series win on the road over the struggling Stockton Ports, and a series opener victory at home against the Bakersfield Blaze. Entering Monday, they've won five of their last eight, another decent streak for a team that has gone through some lean weeks much of this year.

To say the club is still facing an uphill battle for the California League's North Division second half crown is an understatement, to say the least, but alas—progress.

Buoyed by much better offensive days up and down the lineup in addition to the same old solid starting pitching that they've seen all year anyways, here's the week that was in Modesto:

Date H/A Opponent Result Date H/A Opponent Time (MT)
July 17 @ Stockton W, 10-7 July 24 vs Bakersfield L, 1-8
July 18 @ Stockton W, 9-3 July 25 @ Visalia 8:00 pm
July 19 @ Stockton L, 3-4 July 26 @ Visalia 8:00 pm
July 20 OFF DAY July 27 @ Visalia 8:00
July 21 vs Bakersfield W, 3-0 July 28 vs San Jose 8:05 pm
July 22 vs Bakersfield L, 0-3 July 29 vs San Jose 8:05 pm
July 23 vs Bakersfield W, 5-4 July 30 vs San Jose 8:05 pm

Some numbers of note:

Things are getting ridiculous for RHP Parker French. The 23-year-old has allowed two earned runs in his last three starts (19.2 innings pitched) to go along with 12 hits, just two walks, and 14 strikeouts. His ERA is down to 2.61 in Modesto this summer (16 starts), and is now 2.35 on the full year (including four more starts from Low-A Asheville.

I'll be interested to talk to RHP Ryan Castellani again. His velocity and stuff has held even as his total workload grows (now 113.1 innings over 18 starts for the 20-year-old). But, he's walked nine hitters in his last two starts (10.2 innings) before Sunday evening's game. Could be a harbinger of some general fatigue based on the extended workload, something typical for a pitcher of his age in full-season ball. Obviously, it could also just be a blip on the radar; the start before these past two, he tossed eight four-hit innings with no walks and eleven strikeouts.

OF Drew Weeks is anchoring the lineup right now, going 14-for-40 (.350) in his last ten games, with three home runs at 15 RBI. Entering Saturday night, that's upped his slash line to .225/.279/.325 with 11 doubles and five home runs in 302 at-bats.

It's been something of a struggle lately for LHP Tyler Matzek. In his last 13 innings pitched (11 games), he's walked 14 batters. (More to the point, he's walked eight hitters in his last four innings/four games.)

Relative newcomer LHP Jack Wynkoop is finding his fit in Modesto, too; in five starts before his outing on Sunday night, he was 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. Most impressively, he had allowed just one walk against 29 strikeouts in 29.2 innings pitched.

★ ★ ★

Josh Fuentes has big goals for the last month of the season

There's not too much time left in this baseball season—at least not for the minor leaguers, who will wrap up on Labor Day—but Josh Fuentes still has quite the to-do list with Modesto for the month of August.

A prolific power hitter for several weeks at Low-A Asheville before he was promoted to Modesto in late May, the corner infielder knows he won't put up counting stats relative to his peers with the Nuts, but that doesn't mean he doesn't want to outdo his own expectations.

"Most guys have an advantage because they’ve been here longer and I’ve only been here for a month and a half, and I know I’m not going to put up big numbers. Well, unless I go off," he says, smirking at that last sentence. "But I really just want to prove that I can play at this level, and show the Rockies that I can adjust coming from Low-A to High-A in such a quick time like that to be able to compete with these guys."

"I think I have for the most part, I think I’ve competed," he continues. "I think I’ve been able to stay pretty consistent with my hitting in the last month. I’m feeling good about it. A few more home runs would be nice, but it’s going well."

That's not to say he's completely satisfied defensively, though. The southern California product has been playing both third and first base, but Fuentes has his sights set on a much bigger goal this winter to improve his versatility and, in turn, increase his chances of playing time as he reaches higher and higher levels of the minor leagues.

"By now I think they know me as a player, that I play hard and I play good defense," he says, "but I can play short and second too. They haven’t seen that yet, but maybe next year during spring training we’ll talk about it. I can show them I can play all the positions, and be the utility guy that’s going to hit the ball hard."

That's not just a pipe dream for Fuentes, either; versatility might be his long-term ticket to Denver, especially since he's quick to note he's not a stereotypical power hitter that can produce home runs and stay exclusively on the corners of the infield. From what it sounds like, he's ready to put in the work to make that happen.

"Just from taking ground balls right now, I don’t even think they’d let me take ground balls at short just for fun," he admits, laughing. "So if I have to get into the offseason and change my body and get quicker, then that’s what I’ve got to do. I know I can play those positions, I just need an opportunity to prove myself."

That'll be a challenge, for sure, but considering he works out with cousin Nolan Arenado every winter, who better to help him with defensive footwork to improve versatility.

★ ★ ★

From here, the Nuts get three on the road at Visalia, and then four more at home against San Jose. That'll wrap up July—can you believe we're already here?!—and from there it's on to four more good weeks of baseball in August before the sun sets on another season and we all wistfully await spring training once again...