Fuentes' Offense Is Trying To Catch Up To His Glove

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif.—After the 2010 season, the Padres traded Adrian Gonzalez, their most iconic player since Tony Gwynn, to the Red Sox for utilityman Eric Patterson and three of the Red Sox's top prospects: righthander Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Reymond Fuentes.

Rizzo captured the imagination of the fans by having a big first two months in Triple-A before struggling in his brief stint in the majors.  Kelly, while not dominant, has been solid in Double-A San Antonio and is still considered to have top-of-the-rotation potential. 

And quietly, very quietly, Reymond Fuentes, the third man in the trade and many believe the player with the most upside, has been making steady progress with Lake Elsinore.

The Puerto Rican native was a first-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2009, only the sixth player ever taken in the opening round from an island with a rich baseball history. 

His strongest assets are his speed and defensive ability in center field, which are evident in his play, but the real question was whether he would hit enough. Can he turn tools into performance?

The lefthanded-hitting Fuentes was batting .268/.341/.349 with 104 strikeouts and 41 walks in 441 at-bats with Lake Elsinore. He had 22 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and many scouts believe Fuentes will eventually hit for more power.

Playing To Strengths

Power is not the Padres' concern. They want Fuentes, 20, to focus on reaching base more often and possibly become the leadoff man the organization has always sought.

"You are not going to make a living by going over the top of the outfield if you can't do it consistently. A player needs to look in the mirror and honestly say, 'What I do well?' " Storm manager Phil Plantier said. "Rey can run well and this is the type of offensive game he needs to build."

Plantier, an eight-year major league veteran, likes the tools that Fuentes brings to the table, and realizes persuading a young player not to swing for the fences is a tall order.

"Convincing a young kid that he needs to hit a line drive in front of an outfielder that is 275 feet away, and he only needs to hit it 200 feet on a line, can be a tough sales pitch—especially when doing the opposite is what got them here," Plantier said. "But that is what he needs to do to become successful. Do that every day and get a walk, and you are going to play this game for a long time."

Fuentes, whose cousin is Giants star outfielder Carlos Beltran, was drafted by then-Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod, who is now the Padres' assistant general manager overseeing player development and scouting.

"He's had a good year, been kind of stuck in middle thirties of stolen base categories, but is a real wiry strong kid performing at the high A level at a pretty young age," McLeod said of Fuentes.

Fuentes had a mixed season last year with low Class A Greenville, being named the top defensive outfielder by managers in the league to go along with 42 steals in 47 attempts.

Fuentes hit .270/.328/.377, with his on-base and slugging percentages raising questions about his batting eye and if he is strong enough yet to play at the upper levels. In three minor league seasons Fuentes has yet to post an on-base percentage better than .331.

"He has surprising power—he can put the ball in the right field seats at Petco in batting practice—and I thought at this point we would have seen a few more extra-base hits, particularly doubles," McLeod said. "But at the same time, he still has a ways to go. He's still learning the game and what pitches he can turn on."

While Plantier does believe he will eventually hit more line drives into the gaps, for now it's not about extra-base hits, it's about playing to his strengths—his speed.

"Reymond came to us with an uphill push," Plantier said. "He hit too many fly balls to the opposite field which turned into outs. 

"He is realizing that now, he needs to be the guy that hits line drives in front of the outfielders."

New Philosophy

Fuentes, who noted there is a difference in philosophy between the Red Sox and the Padres on what they expect him to do, has bought into the plan.

"I recognize my role on the team," Fuentes said about San Diego's plans for him to put the ball in play more than elevate it. "I'm not here to hit home runs or drive in runs. I'm here to get on base and let the big guys do what they do best."

The attention of being part of one of the bigger trades in baseball or having a famous relative has always been something he lived with and accepts.

"Yeah, you can't think about who is watching you or you will build up too much pressure on yourself and try to do too much," he said. "Then you are doing everything the opposite of the way you want to."

The best advice came from Beltran, who Fuentes still works out with every offseason.

"He said to me don't worry about the result but worry about not giving 100 percent—and I really take that to heart."

John Conniff covers the Padres system for 619Sports.net