It's incredibly early in the 2012 season, but fans of the San Antoino Missions may be in the midst of the emergence of Reymond Fuentes.
Fuentes came to the Padres via the Red Sox as a part of the package they received for Adrian Gonzalez, immediately putting him into the spotlight even more so than he was by having been selected in the first round in 2009 or for being Carlos Beltran's cousin. As a part of such a high-profile trade that was justified as getting the Diamondbacks a number of pieces for their future, big things were expected out of Fuentes, who was almost immediately dubbed as the Padres center fielder and leadoff hitter of the future.
At the time, Fuentes was coming off a season in which he had posted a .705 OPS in his first year of full-season ball in the Low-A Sally League. His six percent walk rate wasn't outstanding, but also wasn't terrible for an 19-year-old still adjusting to professional ball, and his 42 steals were an encouraging sign of his ability to use his plus-speed.
All in all, big things were expected from him in his new organization as he headed to the hitter's haven that is the California League.
Fuentes didn't deliver big things in 2011, but instead it was more of the same - moderate walk rates, no power and lots of speed, all adding up to a .711 OPS, up six points from the year before, but down in relative terms to having spent the season in a much easier hitter's league.
The Padres bumped Fuentes up to Double-A for the 2012 season despite his inability to truly have success yet with the bat. The jump from A-ball to Double-A, typically the most difficult for minor league hitters, proved to be too much for Fuentes, who, despite increasing his walk rate to over nine percent, struggled to make enough contact to use his speed an be an effective hitter. Surrounding a career-high 133 strikeouts, way too many for a leadoff-type hitter, Fuentes hit just .218 in the Texas League.
But Fuentes, still just 22-years-old, is back in Double-A taking another crack at leading the Missions offense and is having a much better time of things so far in the young 2013 season. A 2-for-4 evening at the plate (that also included a walk and two runs scored) brings his batting average to .386) 10-for-26 over his first six games. It's a horribly small sample size, but for a player who needs a strong offensive season to revitalize his career, it's a good sign worth noting.
If Fuentes struggles this season in a repeat of Double-A, it could spell the end of his chances to prove that he's an everyday player in the major leagues. His walk rates have improved in each of his three full seasons, so that's a good sign that he's improving his approach at the plate, and he's never going to hit for much power, so no one's too worried about that. But Fuentes must prove that he can consistently get on base if he's ever going to get regular playing time in the majors.
So far in 2013, Fuentes is doing just that, pacing the Missions lineup and posting a .429 on-base percentage in the early going. If he keeps this up, Fuentes could receive a mid-season bump to Triple-A to test his newfound offensive game.
Time has hardly run out yet for Fuentes, but his opportunities to prove he's worth the chances he's received may be getting slim. He's off to a great start this April, but he'll need to continue to show progress to the Padres if he wants to stay in their plans.