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Franmil Reyes is a rare breed

The Indians haven’t had many like him. Where that leads is up to him

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Franmil Reyes is a big happy chunk of ball destruction, and we love him for it. It’s hard to think of a young Indians player in the last decade or so with as much realized potential to murder baseballs so absolutely, and at such a young age, as Reyes does.

The way they draft in this era typically doesn’t end up with such min-max kind of players, or ones that work out anyway. We’ll see where Bobby Bradley ends up, but for now it’s Reyes that we want to kill that ball. His acquisition was an answer to a whispered hope, a need of a mountain in the middle of the lineup ready to crush opposing pitchers. He’s young as can be, but there’s a lot to be happy about already, and a lot to look forward to.

It wasn’t a perfect Cleveland debut for Reyes, hitting just .237/.304/.468 after he came over from San Diego, but when he did run into a pitch it was a cause for celebration. That explosion, that “I know that’s gone” kind of feeling, it’s a thing Tribe fans have been hunting for a while now. At least, when it comes from a guy the size of Reyes. Someone like José Ramírez, who’s unloaded on quite a few in his time with Cleveland, that’s more a fun surprise. That’s all well and good, but sometimes we’re looking for a statement, a confirmation of might, and that’s what Reyes does. That’s satisfying, one of the happiest instances in baseball.

It’s also something we hope to continue far into the future in Cleveland. For the year, including his stint in San Diego, Reyes boasted a much more boisterous line, hitting .249/.310/.512. It’s a classic free-swinging, massive power kind of line that results in lots of hopes of some kind of discipline revealing itself as the player ages and learns his league. From 2018 to 2019 there was a decided increase in Reyes’ attack mindset, as his swing rate jumped almost five points to 51.5 percent, his whiff rate more than five points to 36.5 percent, and his chase rate leaping almost 3 points to 30.1 percent. It’s not ideal, but he is young.

The hope though, is something clicks for him in the offseason, or has already and simply hasn’t shown itself, and next year it’s much better. The Indians don’t have a lot of history with players who popped that kind of batting line he did in 2019, but of note is one Richie Sexon. In 1999, his first full season in the Majors and with the Indians, Sexon hit .255/.305/.514, then got traded halfway through the 2000 season to Milwaukee while hitting .256/.315/.460. Yes, we all know it’s very unlike the Indians to trade away a young power hitter just before they break out, but amazingly Sexon hit .296/.398/.559 the rest of the way with the Brewers, and over the following five seasons posted a .270/.363/.537 line.

Sexon was one of a bunch of huge sluggers the Indians simply had no room for because they had Huge Slugger Maximus, Jim Thome. They don’t have that going for them anymore, so Reyes is going to have his chances. Like Reyes, Sexon was a huge guy, 6 foot 7 and 205 pounds in his playing days, and made a lot of noise with his bat. he also struck out a lot, 117 times to just 34 walks in 1999 before eventually finding his eye. In 2003 at 28 years old he walked 98 times with 45 home runs and poste a 140 OPS+. This is the hopeful ceiling for Reyes. Like Sexon, he is a free-swinging giant with all the natual power you could hope for. He just needs to find his eye.

The only real worry you could find, absent the general whiff rate problems, is simply that Reyes made less contact in coming over to the Indians, his contact rate dropping from 67 percent with the Padres to just 67.6 percent with the Tribe. That’s troubling, but you could chalk that up to a combination of a growing book on him along with his having to get used to an entire new league’s worth of pitchers while also being in an entirely new environment. That’s not easy ,especially for a guy in his second year in the majors. He seemed to have found a level of comfort as the season wound down, posting a .788 OPS in September after just .759 in August, but more of what he was in San Diego is needed.

There are a handful of players we will watch with great interest in 2020, hoping for growth, none more important than Reyes. If he become what he has the potential to be, he’ll be the key that unlocks a monstrous offense. It’s a big if, but that’s mostly what we get from young players.