Josh Fuentes: Rockies 2020 Rookie Of The Year
Josh Fuentes characterized his career as “always kind of waiting in the shadows.” It played out that way again this year before the 27-year-old seized an unexpected opportunity.
Fuentes began the season on the Rockies’ taxi squad and didn’t play before being optioned on Aug. 6 to their alternate training site. After the Rockies recalled Fuentes on Aug. 20, he soon replaced slumping Daniel Murphy at first base and began producing.
In 30 games, Fuentes hit .306/.320/.439 with two homers and 17 RBIs, albeit with two walks and 29 strikeouts in 103 plate appearances. It was a vast improvement over 2019, when Fuentes had two undistinguished stints with the Rockies.
“He’s an aggressive free-swinger,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “But the overall approach is better. He’s not jumpy. He’s not antsy.”
Fuentes is no longer best known as Nolan Arenado’s first cousin, having emerged from that shadow on his unlikely path to the Rockies. Fuentes played one year in high school, went to Saddleback (Calif.) JC and finally Missouri Baptist, an NAIA school.
Fuentes wasn’t drafted, and at Arenado’s urging, the Rockies signed him in 2014.
“It’s something that has definitely made me into a grinder,” Fuentes said. “Even though I’m 27—and for a lot of people that’s an old rookie—to me, I feel like I’m just getting started.”
Third base is his natural position, but Fuentes has worked hard to become an above-average first baseman. And he knows himself as a hitter, having unsuccessfully tried to hit more home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2019 after winning Pacific Coast League MVP honors there in 2018.
“I think I’ve proven that I can be a gap-to-gap guy,” he said. “Maybe I won’t hit 30, 40 (homers) but 20 with a bunch of doubles . . . Anything just to get hits and get RBI.”
An impressed Black said of Fuentes: “He plays with a lot of energy. He plays with a lot of passion. He brings a great spirit to the team. He’s just a great teammate. So a lot of things are pointing in the right direction for Josh.”
— Lefthander Helcris Olivarez, outfielder Ryan Vilade and third baseman Aaron Schunk made significant progress at the alternate training site. Olivarez, 20, pitched at 94-97 mph with a very good changeup and curveball. Vilade, 21, who was drafted in the second round as a shortstop in 2017 and began playing third base last year at high Class A Lancaster, spent about 90% of the time in the outfield and projects as a corner outfielder in the majors. Schunk, 23, drafted in the second round last year, was introduced to second base this summer.
— The Rockies, who got off to an 11-3 start, were 17-17 and the second wild card team entering play on Aug. 31. In hopes of making the postseason, they gave up three prospects to acquire reliever Mychal Givens and center fielder Kevin Pillar, dealing first baseman Tyler Nevin (their No. 10 prospect) and middle infielder Terrin Vavra (No. 14) for Givens, who can become a free agent after 2021, and reliever Jacob Wallace (No. 15) for Pillar, a free agent this winter. The Rockies continued to slide, missing the playoffs with a 26-34 record.