Despite the Padres having one of the more promising farm systems, the 2018 major league roster was mostly unremarkable. Their players mostly fell into one of three categories: stopgaps, competent relievers, and Eric Hosmer.
We haven’t yet seen much of what the Padres’ talented, young players can do. Joey Lucchesi showed promise in his first year. We’ve seen flashes of Manuel Margot and Franchy Cordero being excellent, but together they combined for 0.7 fWAR. Then there’s Franmil Reyes, who definitely wasn’t supposed to lead the team in wRC+. The Padres were counting on Reyes to be their best hitter in the same way the Giants were expecting Derek Holland, who had signed a minor league contract, to lead them in innings pitched.
Around the time that Reyes made his major league debut in the middle of May, FanGraphs had Reyes as the Padres’ 27th best prospect with just a 40 FV. That evaluation makes sense. His defense is a little raw. In 551 innings, he posted -1 DRS, -4.4 UZR, and -3 OOA. Reyes has had issues making contact, something that he displayed this year putting up just a 69 percent contact rate. He also had a 28.1 strikeout percentage in his first year. Reyes isn’t exactly a five tool player.
He does one thing: hit the ball really effing hard. However, the low contact is something the Padres can live with if Reyes is maintaining a 47 percent hard hit rate. Yes, the .345 BABIP is going to come down, but before that happens, he’ll need to stop smoking the ball.
In 285 plate appearances, Reyes hit .280/.340/.498 for a 129 wRC+. The .498 slugging and .218 ISO were both higher than any mark he posted in the minors save for the 58 games he spent at triple-A this year. In his half a season of work, Reyes hit 16 homers, and he cracked another 16 in triple-A. Considering he just turned 23 in July, it’s not hard to imagine that Reyes has made an adjustment and could realize his 30 homer potential.
One change that immediately jumps out is in Reyes’ stance. Here’s Reyes preparing for a pitch in the 2017 Arizona Fall League.
Reyes used to keep his thighs close together in a style similar to Moises Alou. The result was that Reyes strode to the ball which could increase his chances of getting out on his front foot. He takes a balanced swing here, but pay attention to his feet.
In 2018, Reyes opened up his stance a bit to eliminate the stride. He’s also keeping his back elbow up.
This has allowed him to heighten his leg kick which seems to have helped him stay back on the ball thus realizing his power potential.
He’s kept up his performance in the Dominican Winter League. Over the regular season, he led the league with a 1.199 OPS. That was over just 45 plate appearances, but it’s still over 200 points higher than the next closest hitter, and over 300 points higher than current Padres’ top prospect: Fernando Tatis, Jr.
Reyes has also displayed a playable amount of discipline. Both his o-swing and walk percentages are around league average, and he’s maintained consistent walk rates over the last four years of his minor league career.
Reyes hits the ball on the ground bit more than a player with his sort of power ought to. Reyes’ hard hit and contact rates are reminiscent of Joey Gallo, but what makes Gallo special is that he hits over half of his balls in the air. Reyes on the other hand, hits around half of his balls on the ground.
He’s at least impressed Steamer enough for it to think that he’ll be around a league average starter next year. He’s projected for a 111 wRC+ and 1.7 fWAR. Reyes’ real test will come when the league makes adjustments to him. He’s already vulnerable to breaking and offspeed pitches. I would also expect more teams to employ a shift against him in 2019 as he only hits 11 percent of his grounders to the opposite side.
If Reyes can continue his great performance in 2019, it could accelerate the Padres’ return to contention. There’s no guarantee of it happening, but there was no guarantee of him doing what he did this year either.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.