Cleveland Indians: Unleash the Franimal

Since our last catch-up, the Indians have suffered another injury. Centre fielder, Oscar Mercado, essentially guaranteed a starting spot this year, suffered a sprained wrist when he dived to make a sprawling catch on a shallow fly ball. Mercado impressively held onto the ball and recorded the out, but immediately clutched his wrist in agony. The good news is it’s not considered to be serious, and the outfielder isn’t expected to miss Opening Day, although this setback does put his position in some doubt if his recovery is slow. The 25-year-old Colombian is optimistic though:

Even if Mercado is healthy to start the season, the outfield situation is far from determined. The other players still in contention include Jordan Luplow, Delino DeShields, Domingo Santana, and Franmil Reyes.

As each spring training game passes us by, one man from that group is elevating himself above the others. It hasn’t been for his play in the field (which has been solid); it’s what he’s done with the bat.

Franmil Reyes has spent every day punishing the baseball like it offended his mother.

At this stage I am obliged to provide the annual warnings about ‘small sample size’ and ‘it’s only spring training’, but at the time of writing, Reyes possesses an otherworldly slash line of .444/.483/1.148 (AVG/OBP/SLG) over 27 at-bats, with five home runs and 11 RBI. His OPS is a ridiculous 1.631, but the statistic I’m most impressed by is his meagre tally of just three strikeouts.

It’s not surprising the giant Reyes has struggled with punchouts in the past. He takes such huge hacks with his long swing. The 24-year-old slugger recorded 156 strikeouts in 548 plate appearances in 2019, a 28.5 K% (per Fangraphs). Eager to make amends this year, Reyes is off to a good start this spring in cutting down the easy outs. Maintaining this newfound patience and awareness at the plate will be a challenge, but he appears to be on the right path. His progress thus far has been a big positive.

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The Dominican Republic native made a special effort over the winter to lose weight in his bid to play a corner outfield spot this year, and feature regularly in the lineup as a result. Thankfully the weight loss doesn’t appear to have compromised his incredible power, as his five mammoth home runs will attest.

Reyes’ ability to send balls into the stratosphere is the stuff of legend, and I am still in shock the San Diego Padres traded him away last year. He is entering just his third major league season, and the Indians will hope to reap the benefits of his prodigious clout for years to come. Reyes isn’t eligible for free agency until 2025.

The Tribe haven’t enjoyed a player in his prime who has displayed this much consistent power in over a decade. Travis Hafner, belovedly referred to as Pronk, was the last Indians player to hit over 40 home runs, back in 2006 when he smashed 42 dingers. Should Reyes stay healthy for the entire year, he has a legitimate chance at destroying that record. Reyes hit 37 homers between San Diego and Cleveland in 2019. No longer hindered by the disruption of moving across the country and adapting to a new city, team, and league, his personal goal in 2020 will be to beat last season’s total. The signs this spring indicate he is well on his way to achieving this.

Fans of baseball will want to mark Reyes as one to watch this year, as Gavin suggested in his recent piece. He hits the ball with an unparalleled mixture of force and velocity; there are few who can match him. Reyes really is a spectacle to behold, and Tribe fans have every reason to celebrate and enjoy him in the coming months and beyond.

Ash Day is covering the Cleveland Indians throughout the 2020 season as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29

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