(Photo by Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire)
The San Diego Padres have placed a real emphasis on building their farm system over the last number of years under the guidance of President of Baseball Operations and General Manager A.J. Preller. This has led to a farm system with both depth and high-end talent. Recently, both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline ranked the Padres farm system as the best in baseball. One of the products of that farm system, 23-year old outfielder Franmil Reyes, was never considered to be among the Padres top prospects, but he’s very quietly put himself into a position as one of the most intriguing young players in the organization.
Reyes earned his promotion to the majors with a dominant start to his 2018 season at AAA El Paso in which he mashed to the tune of a .346/.442/.738 line with 14 HRs in just 154 PAs at the time of his initial call-up. Some may have questioned the legitimacy of the numbers at the time, he wasn’t considered a top prospect after all, and many suggested that he was perhaps just a Pacific Coast League mirage. He somewhat proved them right initially by struggling in his first taste of MLB action. He ended up hitting just .222/.267/.434 with 6 HRs in the first half of the season over 105 PAs and supported it with a 5.7% walk rate and 39% strikeout rate. All told, it was worth a below-average 89 wRC+.
Upon his 2nd demotion to AAA on July 29th, Reyes worked to shorten his leg kick and stride to become quicker at the plate. “When we sent him down, we talked about cutting down the leg kick and shortening things up,” Padres manager Andy Green said of Reyes. Let’s take a look at his swing before and after that demotion:
Here is a HR swing from Reyes in May against the Miami Marlins:
Here is the post-demotion swing on a HR against the Colorado Rockies on August 31st:
You can see in the 1st gif that Reyes’ leg kick is immense. Stop the gif at the peak of his leg kick, his kneecap is in line with the catcher’s head and is close to perpendicular with the ground. At the moment just before the ball is released by the pitcher, Reyes has his front leg up maybe a foot off the ground creating less than 90-degree angle between his upper thigh and his torso. He does an excellent job in sitting back on the 85 MPH pitch from Dan Straily and times everything well with his front foot landing and then immediately continues his momentum by uncoiling his upper body which allows him to simply extend his arms and “poke” out a HR into the 2nd deck in deep left centerfield. You can see the length in his swing though between the big leg kick and his hands that start out fairly high, get pulled in during his load, and then have to extend back out as he uncoils towards the baseball. There is a lot to time with this swing, and you can see that simplifying would be an obvious solution.
In the 2nd gif, you can see that his leg kick is slightly more relaxed, the peak of his kneecap is certainly less (around the catcher’s shoulder) and the angle between the top of his thigh and his torso is now around 90 degrees give or take. I also really notice in the side angle view that his hands are in a much more consistent position and he’s more direct to the ball. He does still have a load, but he’s gotten rid of some movement which again simplifies the swing and should help him to make more contact. This fastball from Rockies pitcher Antonio Senzatela is a middle-in mistake and Reyes simply pulls his hands in, uncoils the built up momentum from his load, and catches the ball out front and drives it out. It really is a beautiful swing!
So what results have these changes produced? Reyes immediately cut into his strikeout rate in the majors after his latest promotion and has quietly been one of the very best hitters in baseball over the 2nd half of the season. Over 139 2nd half PAs, Reyes has hit a crazy .333/.396/.603 with 10 HRs and supported it with a 9.4% walk rate and a 21.6% strikeout rate and overall has been worth a 171 wRC+. That 171 wRC+ ranks in a tie for 7th best in baseball with Houston Astros 1B Tyler White in the 2nd half among those with at least 110 PAs. No doubt that the 17.4% drop in strikeout rate from the 1st half to the 2nd half is a big factor, especially when you consider Reyes’ ability to impact the baseball.
Reyes is a big dude at 6 foot 5 and 275 pounds, and he’s long shown a special ability to impact the baseball which is why him simply making more contact is so beneficial. For the season, he has posted an above-average 42.2% Hard Contact rate and has supported it with a 92.2 MPH average exit velocity. That 92.2 MPH avg exit velocity ranks in a tie for 16th best in the majors with Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts and ranks ahead of names like Christian Yelich, Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Cody Bellinger, and Nolan Arenado. His 8.8% barrels per plate appearance mark is also elite and ranks 17th best in the majors. He’s been able to maintain the elite quality of contact numbers despite the changes to his swing as he managed a 90.3 MPH mark in August and currently has a 93.1 MPH mark in September.
Now let’s take a look at his plate discipline metrics to see if he has made substantial gains to support his drop in strikeout rate from 1st half to 2nd:
|Plate Discipline Metric||1st half||2nd half||Current MLB Average|
|His % of pitches seen inside the strike zone||39%||39.3%||43%|
Overall, you can see that Reyes has made some positive gains even if they are minimal. Reyes is showing a quality eye at the plate in the 2nd half with an above-average chase rate which is a good thing since he really struggles to make contact on pitches outside the strike zone. He has been more aggressive inside the strike zone in the 2nd half, and he has been making enough contact to get to his immense power effectively. He may be below average in terms of overall contact rate and swinging-strike rate, but his numbers are actually very much in line with other elite power/Statcast hitters this year like Khris Davis (68.8% and 15.2%), Giancarlo Stanton (67.4% and 14.6%), and even isn’t too far from someone like Bryce Harper (70.1% and 13.3%). The plate discipline numbers obviously don’t point to his current success being fully repeatable, he’s likely not a .300+ hitter going forward as he has been in the 2nd half, but he makes enough contact overall and he has high BAPIP traits that should give him enough of a floor to not be a batting average liability going forward.
As of this writing, Reyes is currently working on an 11 game hit streak, and notably has a hit in 21 of his last 22 games. Note that xStats largely buys into Franmil Reyes‘ recent success as well as over the last 30 days, his xBA of .343 and xSLG of .644 compare favorably to his real-life numbers over that time including his batting average of .385 and slugging% of .679 which suggests that he isn’t getting too lucky. His 17% Value Hit rate over the last 30 days is elite and ranks 8th best in baseball.
Going forward, I think Reyes has more power potential to reach. His launch angle is rather low with just a 7.2 avg degrees this year along with a rather high 46.8% groundball rate. He’s particularly susceptible to hitting pitches down in the zone on the ground:
This is somewhat of a concern as he routinely gets pitched low in the zone, most often down and away:
So if he can learn to elevate the baseball more, especially down in the zone, he can reach a whole new level of power production. The good news is that when he does elevate, he has success. He has posted the 3rd best HR/FB rate (32.7%) in all of baseball this year among those with at least 110 PAs behind just Luke Voit of the New York Yankees and Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers. He also ranks among the elite with a 14.1 AB/HR rate which ranks 7th best in the majors just behind the elite power hitters of the game like Khris Davis, Mike Trout, and J.D. Martinez.
For those of you still in the playoffs that are playing the wire, Franmil Reyes is owned in just 24.1% of ESPN leagues and is likely worth a pickup. Those of you looking for a potential inexpensive keeper for next year to bet on, perhaps Reyes is an option in that regard! Regardless, Reyes is succeeding statistically and there are mechanical adjustments to support it and I think he’s an interesting name to remember going into next year.