A tip of the cap to Nationals scout Miguel Ruiz from Panama, who found and signed Steven Fuentes. The right-hander is the first player that Ruiz scouted to make the Nationals’ 40-man roster. Fuentes was signed in July 2013 out of Puerto Armuelles, which is on the coast in western Panama, a few miles from the Costa Rican border. The 6-foot-2, 175-lb. hurler has worked his way up through the Nats system, culminating with 15 games for Double-A Harrisburg in 2019.
This year has been difficult for most players due to the coronavirus pandemic, but especially for Fuentes, who was not allowed to do much outside his home in his native Panama. The country did not resume international flights until Oct. 12, a full seven months after the pandemic took hold.
The Centers for Disease Control had recommended avoidance of all non-essential travel to the country because there were limited resources available in Panama City if a person got sick with COVID-19.
But Fuentes earned recognition when the Nats placed him in their 60-player pool at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., beginning July 1.
“Steven has done a nice job despite a difficult and challenging situation because of restrictions in Panama,” said assistant general manager of player development Mark Scialabba. “He was not able to do much for the first two months at home. There was very strict guidelines about being out of your house, where you could go. He came into camp a little out of shape, but did his best to get back in to shape.”
That is where Nats strength and conditioning coordinator Tony Rogowski and his staff got to work in getting the 23-year-old Fuentes back into baseball-ready shape.
“Tony did a really good job with him from a pitching standpoint, getting him closer back to where he was couple of years ago,” Scialabba said. “I feel like the future is bright for Steven.”
Fuentes made 11 starts for Harrisburg in 2019. In 15 games, he finished with a 5-4 record and an impressive 2.69 ERA. In 23 games that season, Fuentes’ ERA was 2.23. Scialabba said Fuentes will not overpower you, but created a lot of groundball outs by keeping the ball down.
“His best pitch is his changeup,” Scialabba said. “He’s got a sinker changeup. His slider is still evolving. It might be his best pitch at the end of the day. Groundball pitcher, throws strikes, fearless. He can start. He can pitch in relief, give us multiple innings, kind of can be really that bridge to get to the back end of the bullpen. He’s not someone that is going to come in there and blow hitters away, but he’s going to keep them off balance.
Scialabba said Fuentes has the ability to move the ball around the strike zone, and has no problem making left-handed and right-handed hitters uncomfortable. He had a 1.89 ERA against left-handed hitters while at Harrisburg and right-handed hitters managed just a .235 batting average against him. He surrendered only one home run in those 15 games.
“He’s going to pitch inside and he will be able to get two outs with a one pitch,” Scialabba said. “He will get that type of result when he is throwing those sinkers, changeups. He has the ability to induce swing and miss with the slider and changeup. We like what we see there and time will tell in what role, but I know he will be able to pitch multiple innings, get outs.”
Fuentes appears to be a pitcher that can give the Nats an innings-eater they need to bridge from the starter to the eighth inning. If he can move up next season, that capability to get economical outs will be welcome for manager Davey Martinez’s staff in 2021 or 2022.