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Cousins manning Rox corner infield? Maybe ...

Fuentes, family member of Arenado, is having a spring that may force him onto the roster
@harding_at_mlb
March 2, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It looked like star third baseman Nolan Arenado made the trip with the Rockies to Monday’s game against the Mariners. But that frenetic fellow constantly practicing his swing was actually Josh Fuentes. Fuentes smiles when people kid him about mirroring Arenado, who happens to be his cousin.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It looked like star third baseman Nolan Arenado made the trip with the Rockies to Monday’s game against the Mariners. But that frenetic fellow constantly practicing his swing was actually Josh Fuentes.

Fuentes smiles when people kid him about mirroring Arenado, who happens to be his cousin. But the way Fuentes has started Spring Training, he could laugh with the jokes ... all the way to the Opening Day roster.

Fuentes, who made two standout plays at first base during Monday's 9-6 win over Seattle, also plays third, like "cuz." A right-handed hitter who has put together a .471 Spring Training average with two RBIs and four runs scored -- including a 3-for-3 performance Monday -- Fuentes could give lefty Daniel Murphy some rest at first base. Or his spot on the Opening Day roster may come off the bench to be plugged in for key plate appearances, or even stepping in on the rare days off for Arenado.

So kid him if you must.

“I definitely find myself taking dry swings and I’m like, ‘Ah, man, I’m turning into Nolan,’” Fuentes said. “People are on me about it all the time. They’re like, ‘You’re trying to be like Nolan. You look like Nolan.’ But it’s habit. I’m around him all the time.

“He’s trying to help me all he can. And I thank him for that.”

One of Arenado’s classic mannerisms when he’s in the field -- right elbow up with the hand in hitting position, then a direct push-punch across the torso with the elbow and hand in tight -- speaks to a key reason Fuentes is hitting like a guy who can grab a job.

Last year, Fuentes, 27, received his first Major League callup in early April and went 2-for-18 in nine games before being optioned back to Triple-A Albuquerque. But when he returned in September, he mashed at .270/.289/.541 with three home runs and seven RBIs.

“Before, I used to be a little loopy -- I’d drop [the right elbow] down,” Fuentes said. “Recently, it’s just from right here to right there. You see Nolan, how he’s always going like that [while imitating the signature move]. Obviously, I’m not exactly like him, but I try to be.”

Second baseman Ryan McMahon can move to first base to spell Murphy, but McMahon is also left-handed, so Fuentes is more ideal. Right-swinging non-roster invitee Chris Owings, a middle infielder and outfielder, has taken up some first base this spring. Fuentes is off to a better offensive start than Owings, but there is plenty of spring left.

As the spring progresses, expect manager Bud Black to test the potential bench players in pinch-hit situations. Black likes how Fuentes has shown since September.

“He’s exhibiting the skill set that our player development team has seen the last number of years,” Black said. “The confidence has grown based on his experience last year, getting to the big leagues and having some good games at the end of the season and having some good swings, good games and productive at-bats. So he’s carrying that over into this spring.”

This is Fuentes’ first true Spring Training opportunity.

Fuentes went from a non-drafted free agent out of Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis in 2014 to Triple-A Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player in 2018, when he slashed .327/.354/.517. He was supposed to get a long look last spring, but he suffered a broken hamate bone in his left hand.

The lack of time in Major League Spring Training games did not allow Fuentes to settle into the big league atmosphere.

“First time, I was getting my feet wet and absorbing it all,” Fuentes said. “The magnitude of it all definitely overwhelmed me. I came back in September and I had all year to recover from that injury and really get my mind right. Plus, I really had nothing to lose when I came back up at the end. I wanted to hit the ball hard and play.”

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.