As the dust settles on the latest trade between the Indians and the San Diego Padres, the analysis has focused on the lack of an impact coming back to Cleveland. But the Indians already received an impact bat from San Diego, albeit at last year’s deadline. The 2019 trade between the Indians, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres brought a player the Padres probably wish they could have back in Franmil Reyes (si.com). Reyes was overshadowed in the three-team deal by Trevor Bauer and Yasiel Puig, both talented but enigmatic players. Puig brought energy but little else to the Indians and is currently out of baseball. Though Bauer has shined with the Reds, the steal of the mega-deal must be Reyes. At just 24 years old Reyes would finish the 2019 campaign with 37 homers and be seen as the anchor of the lineup for the foreseeable future (espn.com).
The 2020 season did not get off to a great start for Reyes. Right before spring training part two commenced in July, reports came out that Reyes had attended a party mask-less and Indians held Reyes out of camp till he passed two COVID tests (espn.com). Naturally, the decision to attend the party led to questions of Reyes’ maturity. Once the season commenced it did not get any better for Reyes as he and the Indians offense looked inept. At times, Reyes looked frustrated and lost at the plate as he and the rest of the offense struggled to score runs. After another hitless night in the Indians’ two to nothing win on August 5 against the Reds, Reyes was slashing .163/.182/.256 on the young season (espn.com). Since that game Reyes has looked like the superstar the Indians were hoping he would become, as he is now hitting a ridiculous .336/.388/.575 and is the team leader or tied in almost every offensive category (espn.com).
The interesting part of the transformation for Reyes is not just the slugging percentage and his atmosphere grazing home runs, but his newfound ability to hit for average. In Reyes’ first full season in 2019, Reyes hit for an average of .248 and looked to be the typical three true outcome power hitter often seen in today’s game (baseball-reference.com). Few power hitters outside of Mike Trout hit for a high average as most teams are willing to give up batting average for home runs.
One example is Francisco Lindor. In 2015 and 2016 Lindor hit .301 and .313 respectively. Since then Lindor has hit in the .270 to .280 range as he has seen his home run numbers almost double (espn.com). The advanced metrics back up the trade-off between batting average and home runs, but one cannot argue against having a power hitter who also hits for average. The ability to do both moves a player from a good player to that superstar level.
One key that helps Reyes and adds belief that he can keep up the power numbers and the average is Reyes’ ability to hit to the opposite field. Most power hitters tend to pull the ball which can make it easier for pitchers to exploit the outer half of the plate. Reyes, for his career, has shown the ability to spray the ball all around the field (cleveland.com). Early in the season, Reyes looked to be trying to pull the ball and hit a home run every at-bat. He has adjusted his approach to spray the ball more and to take what the pitcher gives him. All eight of his home runs have been between left-center and right field (baseballsavant.mlb.com). If Reyes can continue to hone this approach the sky is the limit for the big right-hander.
To keep things in perspective the Indians are only 37 games into the season and in baseball, things can change quickly. Reyes could just be on a hot streak and get cold at any moment, the Indians are no strangers to streaky hitters. Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez come to mind as two players who, when hot, can carry a team, but also get cold as ice for periods of time. Whether Reyes has turned a corner to superstardom or is just on a hot streak, only time will tell. What cannot be denied is the Indians got a steal in Reyes and with all due respect to Shane Bieber and the pitching, Reyes right now is the Indians MVP.