Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball provides writeups and pro-style scouting reports on a handful of sleeper prospects down on the Nationals’ farm.
All video is provided by 2080 Baseball.
Steven Fuentes | RH-RP | Age: 21 | Level: High-A Potomac
Signed for just $35K out of Panama in 2013, Fuentes has risen slowly but steadily through the Nationals’ system. Still just 21 years old, the righty is enjoying his best season as a professional and ranks among the best “sleeper” prospects on Washington’s farm. He dominated for Hagerstown before being moved up to High-A Potomac where he has turned it up another level since mid-July, posting a 0.52 ERA while striking out more than 25% of opposing hitters. Fuentes is currently used as a multi-inning reliever, but given a playable three-pitch mix with strike-throwing ability, I wonder if he will be stretched out as a starter as he climbs the ladder.
Listed at 6’2’’ and 175 pounds, Fuentes has a thick and husky build that looks heavier than the listed weight. Pitching exclusively out of the stretch, he works in the 90-to-94 mph range on an extremely heavy fastball with hard bore down and armside in the zone. The heater passes the eye test as a groundball pitch, and the statline matches up: opposing hitters have put more than 50% of balls in play on the ground against Fuentes this year. He showed flashes of a big league slider during my 2017 looks, though he has filled out noticeably since. The strength gains are behind the slider improvement, a pitch that now shows sharp bite and two-plane depth with mid-80s power. His change is too close in velocity to the fastball at 86-to-88 mph, and while it’s more of a distant third pitch, he sells it well and the changeup flashes late dive at its best.
Overshadowed by other pitching prospects in the system the last few years, Fuentes is quietly becoming one of the team’s better minor league arms. The best-case scenario is a #5 starter if he takes to a rotation role. Realistically, Fuentes’ sinker/slider mix profile as a FV 45 swingman who can start games or pitch multi-inning stints in the middle innings.
Joan Baez | RH-SP | Age: 23 | Level: High-A Potomac
Baez’s live arm and plus velocity have gotten him some prospect hype over the last few years, so he may not be as much of a sleeper as the other players on this list. That said, he’s toiled in a rotation role and has faded from the spotlight a bit in the last 18 months. I’ve always seen him as a long-term reliever, and I came way feeling the same after getting a second 2018 look at him this July.
The athletic and quick-armed Baez still reaches as high as 96 as a starter, and I imagine he could reach back for a bit more in a bullpen role. His curveball flashes sharp bite, though it’s inconsistent. Control and a third pitch hold him back as a starter, though that won’t come into the picture as much working out of the ‘pen.
Ronald Pena | RH-RP | Age: 26 | Level: Double-A Harrisburg
Originally a 16th round pick in 2012, Pena hasn’t received much attention climbing through the system. In fact, the 26-year-old reliever didn’t even get out of A-Ball until this season. There isn’t much projection at his age, but the flamethrowing righty is finally putting the pieces together this year and looks like a nice upper-minors depth piece with some chance to reach the bigs in a 4A or emergency situation.
An extra-large frame with the imposing fastball to match, Pena runs his heater into the upper-90s consistently, touching 98 for me across numerous viewings this year. There isn’t much control or secondary to go along with the velocity, causing the fastball to play under the radar gun readings.
A native of Washington, D.C., Adam will be periodically contributing scouting pieces on Nationals prospects for Federal Baseball. Currently, he’s the Assistant Director of Professional Evaluation at 2080 Baseball. Previously, Adam worked in the Baseball Operations departments of the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers after serving as a Senior Prospect Writer for Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter: @2080adam. Adam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for all podcast and media requests.