By Chad Courrier firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — In a perfect world, the Mankato MoonDogs would have had their top shortstop here when the season started in late May, and Josh Fuentes would be playing shortstop in some minor-league organization for the last couple of weeks.
But plans don't always work out, and now Fuentes is the starting shortstop for the local Northwoods League baseball team.
"Coming here has been really good for me," Fuentes said. "You play every day so you have the true minor-league experience, without the money. It's the next best thing. I was lucky to find a home here."
The MoonDogs had several other plans for shortstop, but one player didn't show up, three had injuries that prevented them from playing, one got drafted and signed with a professional organization and another was on a temporary contract and wasn't re-signed.
"Every year, it seems like one position gets hammered," MoonDogs manager Mike Orchard said. "Lats year, it was pitching. The year before it was catching. You never want to get hammered at short because it's such an important position, so we usually sign three and another guy who can slide into short when we need it. When we lost all of them, we were in a tough spot."
Fuentes was told he'd be drafted in early June, perhaps as high as the 10th round, so he didn't sign with a summer-league team. When he didn't get selected, all of the teams he had talked to already had their shortstop positions filled.
Fuentes, who spent the last two seasons at Saddleback College in California, is transferring to Missouri Baptist, so when the draft didn't work out, he contacted his new coach, who had a relationship with Orchard. The MoonDogs manager took a look at Fuentes' stats, which he said are tough to evaluate because of the level of competition and the aluminum bats. Taking the scouting report from the Missouri Baptist coach, contacted Fuentes.
So instead of returning to his California summer-league team, which wasn't nearly as organized or as popular as Northwoods League franchises, he quickly accepted the offer to come to Mankato.
"Usually, you can find a shortstop that can hit or play defense," Orchard said. "Rarely do you find one, especially late, that can do both."
Fuentes, who is 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, has made an impact at the plate. In 17 games, he's batting .386 with nine doubles, one triple, three home runs and 15 RBIs. He was hoping to add some power to his game, perhaps catching the scouts' attention, and it seems like it's worked.
"I just want to work on everything," Fuentes said. "Defense, power ... everything."
Fuentes has a cousin that plays for the Colorado Rockies, and another cousin who was drafted this year. The day of the draft was among the worst of his baseball career, but he's turning that disappointment into a positive by making himself a better player in the Northwoods League.
"It's been awesome," Fuentes said. "I didn't realize how many fans came to these games, and all the stuff they do in between innings and all the energy. Everyone here knows about the MoonDogs, and they're into the games."
With this new experience, Fuentes said he hopes to get drafted next year and start a professional career. He's hoping that a good summer in the Northwoods League will convince the scouts to pick him up next June.
"I thought this was my year to get drafted, so that was frustrating," he said. "But I'll go back to school and work hard and do my best. Hopefully, I'll get my chance next year."