Fuentes Is Making A Name for Himself -- And Don't Forget it
Nolan Arenado was a second-round draft choice of the Rockies when he came out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Cal., in 2009, and after a decade in pro ball he has established himself as one of the game’s elite.
He has won a Gold Glove in all six years he’s been in the big leagues. He has become an annual part of the discussion among MVP voters. And he long ago gave up that mid-summer break, having established himself as an All-Star regular, including being voted by fans to the starting lineup the last two years.
“It’s impressive,” said Josh Fuentes.
And rest assured Fuentes is more than aware of what Arenado does. He is, after all, Arenado’s cousin. Before long, he could even be Arenado’s teammate.
The route to the big leagues has been far from similar, but in the last couple of years, Fuentes has started to force people to recognize that he is more than Arenado’s cousin. He’s also potentially an impact player in his own right.
The road he has followed in his quest for a big-league opportunity has been far from similar to his cousin. But the destination could be the same.
Arenado was the 59th player selected in the 2009 draft. When Fuentes came out of high school in 2011, there were 1,530 players selected in the first-year player draft. Fuentes wasn’t one of them. And despite growing up in Southern California, it wasn’t like he was even pursued at the junior college or college level.
Fuentes wound up at Missouri Baptist, an Evangelical Christian school founded in 1957 in suburban St. Louis, with an enrollment of roughly 5,000. And four years later, he signed with the Rockies, an undrafted free agent. Jon Luekens, the Rockies Southern California scout, who recommended Arenado, did the deal with Fuentes.
“Certainly, a lot of people could have drafted him,” said Zach Wilson, Rockies senior director, player development. “Obviously, we had him in there because of Luekens’ relationship with the family. He was on our radar because we had relationships (with the families). We gave him a chance, and he took advantage of every opportunity that was given to him.
“It’s not like he was ever given the benefit of the doubt.”
Fuentes didn’t need the benefit. In 2015, his second full-season in the minor leagues, he started to get attention. Returned to Low-A Asheville to open the season, he hit .398 in 28 games, and spent the rest of the season at High-A Modesto. He hit .307 at Double-A Hartford in 2017, and last year put an exclamation point on his rise on the list of prospects.
Consider he finished the year voted the PCL MVP, Rookie of the Year and All-Star third baseman. His Albuquerque teammates also voted him the Isotopes’ best defensive player. He hit .319 with 15 home runs, 93 RBI, 12 triples, 88 runs scored and a .319 average.
The end result?
The Rockies selected him to be their prime player in the Arizona Fall League. He struggled initially, getting five hits in his first 25 at-bats, but had 15 hits in the next 42 at-bats and went into Wednesday night’s game hitting .299 in the AFL.
His self-confidence, even while others doubted, is paying off.
“I always knew I could play,” said Fuentes. “I didn’t show it my first three years, but I knew I could. There was a point in High-A (at the end of his third season in pro ball) when I went off. I won player of the week two weeks in a row. It made me believe in myself.”
Fuentes began to make a name for himself, even if Arenado still casts a shadow over Fuentes’ career, which Fuentes accepts without hesitation.
“Obviously the Nolan thing is hard to ignore and everyone asks me about it,” said Fuentes. “It’s part of being his cousin and him being so awesome.”
It is something that bothers Arenado more than it does Fuentes. Arenado wants Fuentes to have a chance to be Josh Fuentes, not somebody’s relative. Arenado wants Fuentes to get attention for what he does on the field, not who he is related, too.
It’s why Arenado is reluctant to be overly public about Fuentes, but away from the limelight, they are close.
“(The media) is going to bring me up, but that’s not fair to Josh,” Arenado said. “He has to be himself. “
Lately, Fuentes has been himself, for sure. And he’s been impressive.
“It’s been awesome,” said Fuentes. “It’s been awesome to show people that I’m not just Nolan’s cousin. I have a name. I have a first and last name.”
And he now has an approach all his own, something he admits wasn’t always the case.
“When I was in (short-season) Tri-City, I tried to hit like Nolan, do everything like him,” he said. “I got to Modesto and I was like, `I can’t go on trying to be someone I’m not. I have to be myself.’
“We’re very similar, but we also are very different. He’s very serious about everything he does, which is what makes him the way he is. I can’t do that. If I’m always locked in, always serious, I’d lose my mind, and that’s what I tried to do at first. It drove me crazy.”
And then, Fuentes allowed himself to emerge.
“I’m in Modesto, and I was kind of a joker, messing around,” said Fuentes. “That’s what helps me concentrate. I need to embrace that. The past couple of years I have, and I’ve had some success.”
He is quick to bring up Tim Doherty, his hitting coach the last two years, for allowing that to happen.
“One day, I remember, I’m in the cage and I had my earphones on,” said Fuentes. “I was dancing, all that stuff. One of the coaches was there and said, `Hey man, you going to tell Fuentes to take off his stuff and lock in?’ and (Doherty) said, `That’s how he locks in.’
“Him, letting me be myself gave the confidence. He gave me the reigns to do what I needed to do to get ready.”
And there are some who think the Rockies need Fuentes to be ready within the next year. They talk about the possibility it could be Fuentes, who becomes his cousin’s heir at third base in Colorado if Arenado does become a free agent next fall.
“One hundred percent it’s a new pressure,” said Fuentes. “I’m like, `Do I want him to stay? Do I want him to leave?’ If I can play in the big leagues for the Rockies, that would be amazing, even more amazing if Nolan is there. “
Amazing, for sure.
But not improbable.
Fuentes has made sure of that with the way he has emerged in the last couple of years in the minors.
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