When the San Francisco Giants played an exhibition game against the Rockies at Salt River Field last spring, they added minor-league third baseman Jonah Arenado to the travel squad. It gave Arenado a chance to appear in the same game as his brother, Rockies All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado.
It could have been a bigger family affair. However, Josh Fuentes, a cousin of the Arenados, was on the back fields at Salt River, playing in a minor league game for the Rockies.
The Arenados and Fuentes are close, growing up near each other, and their families taking part in a number of activities during the off-season. Nolan, however, down plays the relationship when the media comes calling.
“(The media) is going to bring me up, but that’s not fair to Josh,” Arenado has said. “He has to be himself. “
Fuentes gets it. Arenado wants Fuentes to be judged by his own accomplishments and not be expected to be another Nolan Arenado.
Fuentes is doing just that. Undrafted when he came out of high school, and four years later when he graduated from Missouri Baptist, Fuentes signed with the Rockies in 2011 as an undrafted free agent, and began making his own mark in baseball.
His career took a major step forward on Tuesday, Fuentes, a third baseman, was added to the Rockies 40-man roster, along with outfielder Sam Hilliard, and right-handed pitchers Ryan Castellani and Justin Lawrence. First baseman/outfielder Jordan Patterson was outrighted, creating the spot needed to add the four other players.
The first two years were a bit challenging for Fuentes. He tried too hard to be Nolan. After the 2015 season, however, Fuentes began to be Fuentes. In splitting the 2016 season between Low-A Asheville and High-A Modesto, the 2017 season at Double-A Hartford and the past summer with Triple-A Albuquerque, he has hit a combined .307.
And the breakout season of this breakout stretch came in 2018. With Albuquerque, he hit .319 with 15 home runs, 12 triples and 95 RBI. He was a PCL All-Star third baseman, the PCL Rookie of the Year, and the PCL MVP.
The critics will focus on the fact he “only” hit 15 home runs. True. But don’t overlook that cousin Nolan “only” hit 52 home runs, an average of 13 a year, in his four full minor-league season.
Hilliard is a success story in his own right. He was a highly-regarded pitcher out of junior college, but struggled on the mound at Wichita State, which had many scouts turning their attention to others. However, Rockies area scout Brett Baldwin, in his first year of scouting on a full-time basis, was intrigued by the offensive abilities he saw. The Rockies eventually selected Hilliard in the 15th round in 2015.
After a challenging year at Double-A Hartford, Hilliard reaffirmed his prospect status in the Arizona Fall League, where he was a teammate of Fuentes, Castellani and Lawrence. He hit .328 with 14 RBI in 64 at-bats for the Rafters.
Castellani was the Rockies second-round draft in 2014 out of Brophy College Prep in Phoenix. He repeated a season at Double-A Hartford in 2018, and then struggled initially in the AFL before allowing one run in five innings in each of three of hits final four starts. Castellani had slipped into trying to be a prototypical pitcher the past two seasons, but during the spring regained his drop-down delivery under the watchful eye of Dave Burba, the Salt River pitching coach who is a coach in the Rockies system.
Lawrence has converted to a sidearm reliever in the Rockies system, working with former Rockies pitcher Steve Reed on the basics of that approach, although he has maintained a mid-90s-plus velocity. He was limited to seven weeks in the 2017 season before being sidelined the rest of the season, but came back strong at hitter-friendly High-A Lancaster in 2018, compiling a 2.65 ERA in 55 appearances.