The specific date still eludes Reymond Fuentes but the memory is clear and lucid. In the early 2000s, he traveled from his Florida home to Kansas City, taking in a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium.
His mother, Olga, wanted young Reymond to see her first cousin play baseball in person. Fuentes says that when they entered the stadium, he spotted Carlos Beltran in center field.
“Ever since then, I’ve followed him,” Fuentes says.
As a child, Fuentes patterned his game off Beltran, a former Royals star. He sought to his emulate his blend of power and speed. He gravitated toward center field, the position his second cousin has manned for most of his major-league career. When his family moved to Manati, Puerto Rico, he sometimes would see Beltran in the offseason.
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“He’s in the family, and that’s the guy I wanted to follow,” Fuentes says.
Fuentes, 25, is now an outfielder in the farm system of the Royals, the franchise for which Beltran began his All-Star career. Fuentes mostly shrugs at the coincidence, but he cherishes his childhood memory in Kansas City. For now, though, he prefer to make a new one. It could come as early as next month.
With Jarrod Dyson out six weeks with an oblique strain, the Royals will have at least one outfield opening on their 25-man roster. Fuentes could be a logical fit. On the Royals’ current roster, Fuentes is the player who most resembles Dyson. He offers a left-handed bat to complement the right-handed-hitting Paulo Orlando. He can man multiple outfield spots. His legs are a potential weapon off the bench.
Club officials say Fuentes does not possess the game-changing speed of Dyson, but as a former high school track star in Puerto Rico, he offers value as a pinch runner and possible base stealer. In five games this spring, he is batting .429 (3 for 7) with two walks and a stolen base.
“He’s a guy that’s definitely in the mix,” manager Ned Yost said.
When the Royals break camp in early April, their outfield mix is likely to include Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Orlando. The club could choose to carry five at least until Dyson is healthy enough to return.
Fuentes already has tasted the big leagues once. A former first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2009, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres in 2010 in a trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. He spent two seasons in the Padres’ system, batting .330 across Class AA and Class AAA in 2013. He debuted for the Padres on Aug. 13, 2013, and spent the rest of the season in the big leagues.
He returned the minors leagues the next season. The Padres deemed him expendable at the end of the 2014 season. The Royals acquired him for a low cost, sending reliever Kyle Bartsch, a former seventh-round pick, to the Padres in November 2014.
In 2015, Fuentes batted .308 with nine homers for Class AAA Omaha. As the big-league team won the American League Central with speed and defense, Fuentes piled up 26 stolen bases in 35 attempts. He furthered his cause this offseason, batting .326 with a .824 on-base-plus-slugging in 33 games in the Puerto Rican winter league. He won the league’s batting title in the process.
“He’s always been a guy that can spray the ball around, a guy that can get on base,” Yost said. “(He’s) an above-average outfielder.”
For now, Fuentes is taking a modest approach to big-league camp. He says he would like to “open eyes,” but he would mostly like to build off what he accomplished last season and this winter. The injury to Dyson could present an opportunity in the short term, but Fuentes says he is more focused on the long game.
“It’s hard to see a player go down,” he said. “It’s tough. It’s not even about spots. It’s the health of somebody else. But everything happens for a reason.”