The Royals came into spring training with two outfield spots filled by All-Stars - Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. The team seemed willing to give outfielder Jarrod Dyson more playing time and a shot at getting most of the playing for the third outfield spot. That plan hit a snag when Dyson strained his oblique in the first spring training game, which will likely cause him to miss the first two weeks of the regular season. That leaves Paulo Orlando to start in right field in his absence, with a glut of outfield options available in a reserve role.
That outfield picture became clearer after a few weeks of spring training games. Long-time minor leaguers Jose Martinez and Brett Eibner were reassigned to minor league camp early, and veteran Travis Snider has not hit well. Whit Merrifield has impressed in camp as a utility player capable of playing the outfield and Ned Yost has considered keeping Terrance Gore as a pinch-runner. However the Royals will likely want an outfielder in a reserve role and it is looking like Reymond Fuentes could be that player. Who is Reymond Fuentes?
The left-handed hitting Fuentes was originally a first-round pick by the Boston Red Sox out of high school in 2009, signing a $1.1 million bonus. The Puerto Rico-born outfielder is second cousins to former Royals outfielder Carlos Beltran. After a solid first season as a pro, the Red Sox shipped him to San Diego as part of the large trade for All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. By 2012, he was already in AA ball as a 21-year old, but struggled mightily, hitting .218/.301/.302.
He bounced back in a big way in 2013, hitting .316/.396/.441 in AA, earning a short promotion in AAA before making his big league debut with the Padres that season. He was ranked as a C+ prospect by John Sickels at Minorleagueball.com before the 2014 season, a season which produced mixed results in 2014. At the end of the season, the Padres faced a 40-man roster crunch. Rather than lose Fuentes on waivers, new General Manager A.J. Preller engineered his first trade,sending Fuentes to Kansas City for pitcher Kyle Bartsch.
Fuentes can fly around the bases, stealing 216 career bases in the minor leagues at a terrific 80% success rate. He is a high-average hitter who can draw some walks, with a career 8.2% walk rate in the minor leagues. As a player, he is not dissimilar to the player he could replace - Jarrod Dyson. Fuentes will not be known for his home run ability, but he is not completely bereft of power like Dyson. Here is how John Sickels described Fuentes when the Royals acquired him.
Fuentes' main tool is his speed which translates to both sides of the ball. He's a plus runner with good base stealing instincts and excellent range and defense in left field or center field. He doesn't show anything in the power department, probably maxing out at 5-10 homers per year at his peak. Scouts are down on his hit tool, despite posting at least a .315 average his last two trips through the Texas League spanning nearly 600 plate appearances.... His arm isn't quite noodle status but it's also not a strong point in his profile, grading out anywhere from fringy to a tick below average. Overall, I believe he could handle holding down either left or center field in a starting role for a team out of contention.
Fuentes had a fantastic season last year for AAA Omaha, hitting .310/.364/.432 with 9 HR 47 RBI and 29 steals in 462 plate appearances. Clint Scoles at Baseball Prospectus Kansas City likens Fuentes to Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco, who has served as a useful outfielder for several seasons.
The two players’ profiles are somewhat similar in that they both had good contact rates in the minor leagues, have limited power, and use speed as their main tool in their arsenal. Both players also have average arms, making center and left-field their best positions which is a downer for Fuentes considering the Royals already have Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon manning those outfield spots. The advantages from my eyes are that Fuentes enjoys slightly better raw speed and more power than Blanco while the Giants outfielder possesses a better overall plate approach which converts into a likely higher on base percentage outside batting average.
Fuentes has impressed in spring training with a surprising three home runs thus far, however not too much stock should be taken with power numbers in the thin Arizona air. He has also shown great ability with his baserunning and defense, two attributes the Royals love in a player. At age 25, Fuentes is still young enough to have some upside left, but is not so young that he will be overwhelmed by Major League action.
Fuentes has options remaining, which could work against him staying in Kansas City beyond Dyson's injury. However he could be the right fit for what the Royals need in Jarrod Dyson's absence - a player who can play the outfield 1-2 times a week, fly around the bases, play great defense, and hit a bit.