Brian Fuentes isn't a first-year player, but having spent nearly his whole career as a Colorado Rockie, he still maintains a certain anonymity. Given his recent performance (a 2.57 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched on the year), this shouldn't continue. Fuentes' unique motion makes him an effective pitcher even in the rarified air of Coors Field, and he's done an exemplary job filling in as closer after the injury to Chin-Hui Tsao (five saves in six opportunities). Fuentes will be a first-year arbitration player after this year, and is definitely a guy the Rockies want to hang on to as they look towards assembling a contender for 2007 or 2008.
Brian Fuentes was born August 9th, 1978 in Merced, California. He went to high school and junior college in the town of his birth and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 25th round in 1995. He spent six undistinguished years in the Seattle farm system, getting a cup of coffee with the big club in 2001 after being abruptly shifted to a relief role when he reached AAA. After that season he was traded to Colorado with Jose Paniagua and Denny Stark for Jeff Cirillo (who had a disastrous year at Safeco in '02). Fuentes finally made a big league roster in 2003, when he had his best year as a professional for the Rockies, posting a 2.75 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 75 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out 82.
2004 was a step backwards, as his ERA ballooned to 5.64 and he spent two months on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his back. While Fuentes was effective against lefties and righties alike in '03 (and has been again so far this year, with righties hitting .200 against him and lefties only .176), his platoon split in '04 was dramatic (258 points of OPS, as the 2005 Prospectus notes).
The key to Fuentes' effectiveness is a deceptive sidearm motion with a lot of moving parts. Fuentes **** his arm with his elbow bent at a right angle, freezes it, and begins rotating his body with his arm still held in place. At the last minute he flips his arm out and tosses the ball like a discus thrower. Fuentes hides the ball extremely well. I would not want to be left-handed hitter facing him for the first time. He also throws in the low 90s, which is amazing considering the apparent inefficiency of his motion. The 2005 Scouting Notebook indicates a weakness holding runners on with the peculiarities of his motion, but at the game last night Fuentes demonstrated a decent move to first, where his upper body mimics the beginning of his delivery to the plate while his feet stay still. All in all, things could be much worse -- he is still a lefthander.
If the '03 Brian Fuentes and the one we have seen so far this year are the genuine article and 2004 was an injury-fueled outlier, he's a guy we need to secure for a few years. We have the whole season to determine the truth. I'm not implying that Colorado should load up on guys with gimmick deliveries, but Fuentes has shown both a knack for pitching effectively at Coors and the killer instinct it takes to close. He could combine with Marcos Carvajal and a healthy Chin-Hui Tsao to be the anchor of a very good bullpen a few years down the line.