Injuries have propelled Reymond Fuentes into a battle for a major league outfield spot. Will he break camp a Royal?
As the Kansas City Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, continuing with the projected starting lineup.
So far, we have looked at Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Wade Davis, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Christian Colon, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Paulo Orlando
Today, we will be looking at Reymond Fuentes
2015 stats (Triple-A Omaha) – .308/.360/.422, 9 HR, 46 RBI, 39 SB, 110 wRC+
2016 Steamer – .269/.322/.378, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 SB, 92 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR
Projected Role – Fourth Outfielder/Starting Right Fielder (in some estranged universe, or more likely, Triple-A Omaha)
The Royals are notorious for not developing plate discipline, and Reymond Fuentes is one of their only prospects who projects to get on-base at good rate.
The Royals are also notorious for developing contact ability, something that Fuentes may very well struggle with.
In an organization that has traded for guys like Alcides Escobar, produced guys like Salvador Perez and Paulo Orlando, and is producing guys like Raul Mondesi and Balbino Fuenmayor, a player like Fuentes don’t exactly fit the mold.
Each of those players, with the exception of Mondesi, are swing first, ask questions later hitters with, in certain instances, radically high contact rates.
Fuentes is not that guy. In the five seasons where he played at least 100 games, he averaged 99 strike outs per season. In those seasons, he never played more than 136 games.
In 2012, Fuentes struck out 133 times in just 136 games.
However, he has also shown the ability to get on-base, something the organization lack and need, despite the successful hacking approach.
During those same five seasons, Fuentes averaged 41 walks per season, walking in 9.2% of his plate appearances, which would have been above league average in all five of those seasons.
Fuentes also has a legitimate speed record, stealing 35+ bases in four of five full seasons and while stealing 25 or more in six seasons, including 2014, when he played just 88 games.
For 2015 specifically, this was no different. Fuentes stole 29 bases and was graded by Fangraphs as a future 65-grade speed tool.
What changed a bit was his walk rate, which dropped to 6.7%. However, his OBP of .360 was a career high for seasons of more than 100 games, due to him hitting .310.
His .310 average was a significant jump from his career average of .281.
What we saw in 2015 was a bit of a philosophy change as he adapted to a new organization.
Although I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in the Royals drastically shifting his approach, we did see him being more aggressive in 2015, and as a result was more productive when he swung. His 16% strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, while his .422 SLG% was also an improvement from his career .389 mark.
The only problem is that we have absolutely no idea how that will translate into major league at-bats, because the 25-year old has only had 33 of them.
Here is what Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs had to say about Fuentes in their annual evaluation of Royals prospects.
“He has done well to reduce his strikeouts as he has climbed the minor league latter, but he is predominately a ground-ball hitter and not much of a power threat,” Farnsworth said. “Leave a ball up in the zone and he has the bat speed to put it in the seats, but Fuentes will have to show consistency with his plate discipline and contact against major league pitching to profile as a starting option.”
The risk of Fuentes is the latter half of that second sentence. If he remains a ground-ball hitter, without a ton of power, he’s not going to be productive without a good approach. His value will be in him getting on-base and stealing bases, along side an above-average glove.
The upside of Fuentes is that bat speed, which we have seen at the minor league level culminate into power.
He finished 2013 slugging at a .466 clip and hit a career high nine home runs in 2015. That’s not a ton, but he did this in just 107 games.
Project that over 162 games, and the upside is 15 homers. That’s a stretch, but if he can hit 10-15 home runs, steal 25-35 bases and get on base at a reasonable rate, you’re looking at a major league starter rather than a fourth outfielder.
Of all the candidates for right field, Fuentes is by far the most intriguing. He’s a toolsy, former first round pick, whose upside far exceeds any of the other candidates in right field.
However, similar to Mondesi, that upside seems a lot further away than one would like to admit.
As much as I think Fuentes could hit 10-15 homers at the major league level, his results in the minors have been far to inconsistent to reasonably expect that from him, at any point in his career.
He has shown flashes of his first round talent, while also showing flashes of why he has only appeared in 23 major league games to this point.
There is no example better than his 2014 season, where he had a 142 wRC+ in 42 games in Double-A San Antonio, followed by an 88 wRC+ in 46 games with Triple-A El Paso.
Fuentes breaking camp with the big league club likely with Dyson down until at least mid-April. What role he will play is still to be determined.
If he forced his way into major league action this spring and eventually pushed past Paulo Orlando for that fourth outfielder gig, I certainly wouldn’t be angry.
The most likely outcome would be that he gets most of his 2016 at-bats at Triple-A Omaha, with a slight advantage going to Orlando just because of how bad Dyson is against left-handed pitching.
Even so, Fuentes should start seeing major league at-bats in the near future.
He might even make a pretty good lead-off hitter someday.