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'Great Balbino' ready for first big league camp

Now healthy after ACL surgery, Royals prospect excited to play in games
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Obviously the first thing that strikes you about Royals prospect Balbino Fuenmayor is the name.

"The Great Balbino," as he has been dubbed, has become somewhat of a folk hero whereever he has gone the past few years, especially as he resurrected his career.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Obviously the first thing that strikes you about Royals prospect Balbino Fuenmayor is the name.

"The Great Balbino," as he has been dubbed, has become somewhat of a folk hero whereever he has gone the past few years, especially as he resurrected his career.

"I know here in America everyone likes my name because it is close to Bambino," Fuenmayor said. "I'm glad they like that and I'm glad they call me, 'The Great Balbino.'"

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The Balbino name has been a family tradition.

"My great grandfather is a Balbino, my grandfather is a Balbino and my father is a Balbino," Fuenmayor said. "My daughter is 3 and her name is Camila. [But] if I have a son it will be a Balbino."

Great name and all, Fuenmayor almost washed out of baseball.

Once a highly rated prospect for the Blue Jays in 2006, Fuenmayor languished in the low Minors for seven seasons, never rising above Class A.

Fuenmayor showed some power but was admittedly a wild swinger. He once struck out 242 times over a two-year span in Class A ball for the Blue Jays. By 2013, the Blue Jays lost their patience and released him.

Fuenmayor, now 26, was devastated that his dreams of being a big leaguer seemed to have vanished.

"When they gave me the release, I was really frustrated," Fuenmayor said.

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Fuenmayor returned to his native Venezuela and had a long talk with his family.

"When they gave me my release, my family gave me support and said I should try to fight to get another opportunity," he said. "So I decided to continue my dream to play in the big leagues.

"I started to play again in Venezuela and I changed my approach. I [stopped] thinking about every at-bat should be a homer that is 500 feet. I started thinking about putting the ball in play."

Without any interest from Major League teams, Fuenmayor decided the road to a comeback would be through independent leagues. After some mild success in low-level independent ball in 2013, he signed on with Quebec of the Can-Am Independent League in 2014.

It was a career changer. Fuenmayor tore up the league with a .347 average, 23 homers and 99 RBIs.

The Royals saw the numbers and were intrigued enough to sign him to a Minor League deal, virtually sight unseen.

"We put him in Double-A [Northwest Arkansas] last year without really knowing if he could handle it," said Royals assistant general manager of baseball operations Scott Sharp.

Fuenmayor promptly overmatched the league, hitting .354 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs in 73 games. That solicited a promotion to Triple-A Omaha. He hit .377 there in 16 games, and was named to the SiriusXM Futures Game.

But Fuenmayor's season ended in late July when he tore the ACL in his left knee. That didn't deter the Royals, who re-signed him as he recovered.

Fuenmayor cleared his medical examination two weeks ago and the Royals rewarded him with the first Spring Training invite of his career.

"I missed playing for seven months because of the injury," Fuenmayor said. "But now I'm excited to start playing again. I'm so happy."

Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.

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