16. Josh Fuentes (363 points, 27 ballots)
Becoming an undrafted free agent in baseball means that a lot of people emphatically believe you don’t have what it takes for professional baseball. Every team has had their crack at you over 50 rounds, the longest draft in professional sports, and they all said no. Many would take a hint and hang up their spikes, but not Josh Fuentes.
Signed for $10 thousand out of NAIA member Missouri Baptist in 2014, most deemed the opportunity the Rockies gave Fuentes a nod to his famous cousin, Nolan Arenado. And maybe it even was – we don’t know that for sure. What we do know is that Fuentes took that opportunity from the Rockies, whatever the providence, and made himself into the type of prospect who wins the Pacific Coast League MVP award and who earns a precious 40 man roster slot.
For more on his rise to prospect-dom, please check out this profile of Fuentes (including quotes from the man himself) by Jose Romero of La Vida Baseball.
The third baseman (he’s also seen plenty of action at first) took advantage of a dearth of corner infield prospects at short season A Tri-City in 2014 enough to be penciled in as a regular for Low A Asheville after the 2015 season’s first month. There he produced a league average batting line against age appropriate competition, which was enough to make him an Opening Day starter for Asheville in 2016 but hardly distinguished him as a prospect.
From that point on though, Fuentes destroyed minor league pitching to a degree that made him hard to ignore. He began 2016 by hitting .398/.442/.677 with 18 extra base hits in 108 plate appearances (216 wRC+) with Asheville before a May promotion to High A Modesto. In a pitcher’s park within a hitter’s league, Fuentes hit .278/.342/.450 with 28 extra base hits in 325 plate appearances for a 113 wRC+. That was enough for the Rockies to move Fuentes up to Double-A in 2017, where in 450 plate appearances with Hartford the righty slugger again proved he could handle the stick with a .307/.352/.517 line with 15 HRs among his 50 extra base hits (137 wRC+). It wasn’t enough for the Rockies to protect Fuentes from the Rule 5 draft, but fortunately he went un-selected.
Entering the 2018 season, Fuentes still wasn’t on national prospect radars and hadn’t gotten much traction in PuRP voting. Assigned to Triple-A, Fuentes was a shining light for an Albuquerque team that enjoys one of the best offensive environments in an offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. Over 586 plate appearances with Albuquerque, Fuentes accumulated 65 extra base hits including 14 homers en route to the aforementioned PCL MVP award. While a normal prospect in that situation might have received a major league cup of coffee, Fuentes found himself blocked by his cousin, so he’ll have to be satisfied with the trophy and a place in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. Against other top prospects, Fuentes held his own in the AFL with a .301/.356/.482 triple slash in 90 plate appearances, sealing the deal on earning a 40 man roster slot.
Though the positive offensive context helped, his .327/.354/.517 line in Albuquerque still represented a 124 wRC+ performance. To get there, Fuentes was the same type of hitter he’s been at almost every minor league level: low walk rate (3.6% in 2018) combined with a medium strikeout rate (17.6% in 2018). He benefited from his home park, but not markedly so, while producing similar splits against lefties and righties. Most impressively, Fuentes ranked 11th in minor league baseball in line drive/fly ball success, with 26.8% of those batted balls going for hits — a likely indicator of big league batting success.
Here’s some video of Fuentes in the AFL courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Here’s the 2080 Baseball report on Fuentes accompanying the above video by Adam McInturff:
Fuentes looks the part of a pro corner player, a physical 6-foot-2 and 215-pound frame strong enough to hit for power but able to stay at 3B. He hits from a deep crouch with a big leg-kick trigger to start the swing, getting all his lower-half into a quick stroke that has power to the pullside. He yanks most of his contact, and while it isn’t a pretty swing, Fuentes has solid bat control and finds a way to make it work. For a player that looks strong enough to hit for power, his peripherals (low walk/low strikeout guy) don’t fit the standard mold. His game approach is oriented more towards making contact than driving the ball, looking to put it in play and rely on feel for the barrel. He could live to be more patient, but I saw plenty of awareness at the plate and an understanding how to get to his pitch.
Defensively, Fuentes moved between the infield corners in my week-long look watching Salt River. He looked fine at the hot corner, showing soft hands and the footwork to make routine plays. There’s a chance he’s a 55-grade defender at first base, though the overall versatility should help a R/R profile without tons of game power get into the lineup.
He has worked himself into the player he is today, showing significant improvement each of the last two years I’ve seen him. He’s ready to hit in the big leagues, safely profiling as a useful role player who can move between corner positions. If he winds up hitting enough to be an everyday third baseman someday, don’t be surprised: Fuentes is the type of guy that has been proving people wrong for a long time.
Fuentes is currently ranked 17th in the system by MLB.com:
Fuentes’ strength is his ability to make repeated hard contact, which helped him make a run at league batting titles in each of the last two years and top the PCL in runs (93), hits (180), doubles (39), extra-base hits (65) and total bases (285). Most of his power currently comes in the form of doubles but he might develop into a 20-homer threat if he added some loft to his right-handed stroke. He doesn’t strike out much, yet he puts the bat on the ball so easily that he rarely draws walks.
Fuentes lacks quickness but has a strong arm and covers enough ground to serve as an average defender at third base. He has soft hands that also work well at first base, where he has seen action throughout his pro career. Though it remains to be seen if and where he’ll break into the Rockies’ crowded infield, he doesn’t have much left to accomplish in the Minors.
The 25-year old’s top tool is a 55 arm, complemented by 50 field and 50 hit grades. Despite the 45 game power and 40 run tool, that’s a potentially valuable player who could man both corners. Combine that with his production at the highest levels and Fuentes is clearly a player in Colorado’s immediate future plans. It’s hard to see him making the Opening Day roster, but it seems likely that Fuentes will be making contributions to the 2019 Rockies.
I’ve been cautious in ranking Fuentes highly throughout his climb up the minor league ladder, joining most of the PuRPs electorate, but that caution isn’t justifiable anymore given the 40 man roster slot and 2018 production. I rated Fuentes 23rd on my personal list with a 35+ Future Value as a potential MLB contributor, but I’m hoping that ranking looks silly low by the mid-season list.