Why I Don’t Like the Reymond Fuentes Trade (And Why I Could Be Totally Wrong)

I finally created a Twitter account earlier this month, if you’re into that sort of thing. 

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The 40-man roster crunch forced the Padres to make a decision last week: keep Reymond Fuentes on the 40-man roster and clear room by moving someone else allow him to be exposed (and likely taken) in the Rule 5 draft;* or trade him. The Padres chose option two, dealing the left-handed slap-hitting speedster to the Kansas City Royals for 23-year-old lefty reliever Kyle Bartsch. Fuentes’ departure leaves Casey Kelly as the last remaining piece of the late-2010 Adrian Gonzalez-to-Boston deal still in San Diego.

*Clarification: Fuentes was on the Padres 40-man at the time of the trade. The question boiled down to whether the Padres should have kept him on the 40-man or dealt him to clear room for someone else. The premise of the article remains the same. Thanks to reader Ryan Stall for the heads up. 

When he came over from Boston, Fuentes was clearly the third piece in the deal that included Kelly and Anthony Rizzo, but also hardly a throw-in. Taken in the first round of the 2009 draft out of Puerto Rico, his appeal came in the form of unrefined tools. After the 2009 season, Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus ranked Fuentes as the 10th-best prospect in Boston’s system, filling his scouting report with positive traits: explosive, fantastic bat speed, uses all fields, 70 running speed, and a Perfect World Projection as a .300 hitter with game-changing speed.

Fuentes’ skills took time to develop, as he hit just .270/.328/.377 in his first full season in Boston’s organization as a 19-year-old in Single-A. Upon moving into the Padres system, Fuentes didn’t build on the scouting pedigree, hitting just .275/.342/.369 with 44 walks and 117 strikeout in 573 plate appearances in the offense-happy Cal League. Fuentes’ development spiraled sharply downward in 2012, when he barely cracked a .600 OPS in his first shot at Double-A San Antonio. There were still positives signs: the base running and defense remained solid, for one, and his age (21 at the time) offered hope for a turnaround.

That turnaround came in a second tour of Double-A, where Fuentes finally realized how to convert baseball tools into baseball performance, slashing .316/.396/.441 while markedly improving his strikeout rate. He capped off 2013 with a 1.000-plus OPS in Triple-A Tucson, though that came in just 67 plate appearances. Last year was a mixed bag: Fuentes started at Triple-A El Paso, but a punch-less sub-Mendoza Line batting average earned him a demotion to Double-A. Back in San Antonio, Fuentes picked up right where he left off the previous year, hitting .324/.386/.453 in 194 plate appearances. He got the call back up to Triple-A in July and used a nine-game hitting streak to boost his Triple-A batting average to .277, at one point, before an injury in late July cut his season short.

Fuentes deserved a 40-man roster spot

Before discussing the actual trade, we must first consider whether Fuentes should have been kept his 40-man roster spot. Consider the following table, which shows Fuentes’ Steamer (per 600 PAs) projection for 2015 along with a couple of other Padres outfielders currently on the 40-man roster:

Player

Age Slash line wRC+ WAR
Reymond Fuentes 24 .246/.310/.343 90 1.6
Jake Goebbert 27 .230/.311/.372 97 .5
Abraham Almonte 26 .241/.302/.353 89 .7
Alex Dickerson 25 .251/.295/.394 96

1.3

There are at least a few advantages that Fuentes has on the other three:

  • Age — He’s the youngest of the three, though none of them are particularly old.
  • Prospect pedigree — Fuentes was a first-round draft pick with plenty of past support in scouting  circles.
  • Defense — While Almonte might be a legit center fielder, both Dickerson and Goebbert are limited to outfield corners/first base. Fuentes is a potential plus center fielder defensively, with a good shot of at least being league average at the position.
  • Base running — Almonte’s minor league stolen base numbers are solid, but he didn’t show much of that speed last year in the majors, with just four steals on seven attempts. The other two aren’t known for any base running exhibitions. Fuentes, on the other hand, has gone 187-234 (80 percent) on steals in his minor league career, including a 28-31 mark last year between the minors and majors.

Look, there are reasons to perhaps favor Almonte or Dickerson over Fuentes going forward, but Goebbert? How do you explain keeping him around, when he’s three years older than Fuentes and, quite simply, not as good?

And that’s before even considering the rest of the roster, which includes a swath of perennially injured older veterans, Alexi Amarista, and a number of fringy reliever types.

The upside of Fuentes, given his age and raw ability, makes him a guy you can still dream on. More than just the raw ability and potential breakout, though, it’s Fuentes’ current skill-set that’s just as intriguing. He’s already a net positive on the bases and in the field, so even if he doesn’t tap into the tool-set and become an impact starter, he’s the perfect fourth or fifth outfielder in the form of the pinch-running-small-balling-player-you-start-with-a-fly-ball-pitcher-on-the-hill guy.

ThinkJarrod Dyson, who despite hitting like a poor-man’s version of Fuentes, turned into a postseason hero for the Royals while specializing in much of the above.

The trade

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Royals are the team that pulled the trigger on acquiring Fuentes, giving them an immediate surplus in speedy fourth outfielder types. Fuentes joins the aforementioned Dyson as well as Terrance Gore — who thinks he could outrun Usain Bolt around the bases — on a roster full of speed. (Bolt responded, apparently, by saying that he could hit major league pitching better than Gore.)

It’s unclear what the Royals immediate plans are for Fuentes, but it’s possible that he still might get some minor league seasoning before earning a big league job. The Royals are poised to lose outfielder Nori Aoki, but they still have Dyson, Alex Gordon, and Lorenzo Cain. They also still have Gore, though he appears to be more of a playoff secret weapon than a guy they’d carry all season on the 25-man roster.

For what it’s worth, Fuentes’ minor league numbers are better than Dyson’s were, so there’s a decent chance he could out-do Dyson’s career 83 wRC+. Despite his speed, there’s a less decent chance that Fuentes could replicate Dyson’s off-the-charts production on the bases and in the field. Either way, Fuentes profiles as a fourth outfielder, with specific skills that should play above average and the potential to become something more if the bat comes around further.

In exchange for Fuentes, the Padres received 23-year-old lefty reliever Kyle Bartsch, a 2013 seventh-round signability draft pick out of South Alabama, inked for just $10,000 . He’s done little wrong is his short minor league career, throwing 29 and 1/3 innings in 2013 against overmatched youngsters in rookie ball, striking out 37, walking nine, and allowing no home runs. Last year he graduated to the High-A Carolina League, but continued the solid performance: 55 innings, 52 strikeouts, 12 walks, three home runs, and a 2.29 ERA.

Bartsch’s profile isn’t that exciting, however, and he didn’t even crack Baseball America‘s Royals top 30 prospect list prior to the 2014 season. The reason: Bartsch’s size and stuff, as he’s a 5-10 lefty with, according to BA, “a fringe to average fastball, curveball, and changeup,” though BA also thinks that might earn him a shot as a starter. Still, there isn’t a whole lot of projectability there and, realistically, you’re looking at a mid-to-late innings LOOGY if things go well.

The analysis

One of the problems with Bartsch is that, on a roster full of fringy relief types, he seems like overkill. Even if he turns into an effective left-handed relief pitcher, is there room on the roster to get him major league innings? The Padres already have three left-handed relievers on the 40-man, including two-year major league veteran Alex Torres, Juan Oramas (who looks like a slightly better version of Bartsch), and Frank Garces (who also provides a similar, if not better, outlook than Bartsch).

Then there’s the minor league system, which seems programmed to spit out potential ace relievers with dominant minor league numbers. Pick a level, like Double-A San Antonio for instance, and you can generally pick out one or two of these guys. The Missions had Jeff Ibarra throw 41 and 2/3s shut-down innings for them last year. Now, he turned 27 in August, but he’s also 6-6 with a career 3.73 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Garces, too, was on the Missions last year.

The point is that relievers with good minor league numbers seem to grow on trees, and that’s before you consider all of the potential converted starters that could excel if switched to a relief role. Going out and trading for one seems like a poor allocation of resources, especially when good defensive center fielders with plus base running skills and playable bats aren’t necessarily as easy to track down.

The part about why I could be totally wrong

If there’s a point in this article where you screamed at your monitor, “dude, shutup, it’s a really minor trade (and what the hell do you know anyway!),” you’re completely justified. This doesn’t need to be said, but AJ Preller and the Padres front office knows the Padres system (and the rest of MLB) better than I do, and if they think that Fuentes can’t cut it in the majors or that Bartsch is a better version of Joe Thatcher, well, that’s a reasonable defense of the move in itself. Maybe Fuentes’ defense and base running aren’t as good as they look on the surface. And maybe Darren Balsley can work wonders with Bartsch’s change.

But more than just looking at the head-to-head prospects of Fuentes vs. Bartsch, this move, like every move, is just one in a grander plan, making it impossible to be evaluated in a vacuum. Maybe the Padres know that there are more additions to come to the major league roster (there almost surely are, even with Pablo Sandoval out of the picture), and that Goebbert (or whoever) is next on the chopping block. Maybe they dealt Fuentes at the 40-man deadline because he had the most value at the time, and they knew they didn’t have enough room on the roster to stash him until Opening Day.

The part where I end this article

I’d argue that Fuentes should have been retained and that, given the return, he definitely should have been retained. In a perfect world, he could have been the Padres version of Jarrod Dyson, with potentially better offense. There’s value in having players around who excel in specific roles, especially when they’re bench players. Fuentes looks like the ideal model of that kind of player — he’s young, and therefore cheap, and he has the kind of speed that can make him a valuable asset in the field and in the bases, even if he only gets 200 or 300 plate appearances in a season. And as an added bonus, age and upside still narrowly reside on his side, offering a shimmering glimpse at something more.

In the end, Kansas City will find out what they have in Fuentes and the Padres will keep tabs on Bartsch’s development, and by the time both teams know what they have, we’ll probably have forgotten about the whole thing.

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Kyle Bartsch seems like a cool dude, a self-described “nerdiest nerd you’ve ever met” and he also comes with some interesting pre-game rituals. So, if it wasn’t apparent from the above text, best of luck to him and his professional baseball career. 

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  • Bielsa Widow

    Ain’t no such thing as halfway Royals. What made Dyson so effective for Kansas City is that he got into 120 games, usually to replace ya boy Aoki. A player like that, like Fuentes, has to be kinda sorta built around and with the Padres talking about Tomas and Bruce and Kemp, who would be on the team to hit home runs, Fuentes wouldn’t have room to flourish. Why bring in Fuentes to steal a run when Tomas and Smith can do it in less steps?

    • Dustin

      Yeah, but, while Dyson played in 120 games, he only got 290 plate appearances. A large number of his games played were as a pinch runner or defensive replacement (as you mention). So I don’t think he would have needed to play a major role; he could have been a defensive replacement for Smith late in games, or even Tomas depending on how good/bad his outfield defense is, a pinch runner, etc. Wouldn’t have had to build the offense around him, that’s for sure.

      • Shane

        It seems the gap between Fuentes and the other speedy CFers behind him was closing quickly and the front office thought M. Smith and/or Janikowski could provide similar value without taking the 40-man spot.

      • Dustin

        Good point. Janikowski’s bat looks really shaky, but Smith definitely has a chance to fill the same role that Fuentes might have, though he’s probably a good year or two away.

  • pat

    Nice work, Dustin!

    • Dustin

      Thanks!

  • marinest21

    Great post. I myself have been trying to figure out why Reymond wasn’t kept on the 40 man over Goebbert. Hopefully you’re right in that there are other moves planned and both of them were going to be inevitably expendable, but right now it pains me to think of how Reymond could have been utilized, either as a late game sub to steal a base/provide late inning defense, or even challenging Maybin for the CF job if he demonstrated he could consistently hit big league pitching. Guess we will never know.

    • Dustin

      Thanks — and I’m right with you on how Fuentes could have been used. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in KC.

    • Ryan Stall

      Don’t worry. He’s not going to hit at the Major League level. Neither is Hedges.

  • Ryan Stall

    Wasn’t Fuentes already on the 40? He was a September callup in 2013.

    • Dustin

      Yeah, you’re right. You know, I think I knew that when I was writing this, but I see I was unclear a couple of times. The main point of the article remains the same, either way. (That I think the Padres should have kept Fuentes on the 40-man and dealt someone else to make room, rather than dealing Fuentes to make room.)

      I’ll make it more clear there in my opening paragraph. Thanks for the heads up.

  • puertorricane

    Fuentes is Angel Pagan 2.0, all he needs is a chance in the majors. He provides speed, defense and batting avg. But players that dont hit homers take longer to establish themselves in the majors.