Franmil Reyes Should Be an Everyday Outfield Presence for the Indians This Summer
Despite this week carrying little good news when it comes to baseball, there remains a slight chance that we’ll have a season in 2020.
Sure, we’re still watching as commissioner Rob Manfred and players union chief Tony Clark meet for several hours and then forget what they agreed upon, all while a pandemic is shutting down spring training facilities. Still, a season in the range of 60-65 games continues to be discussed.
It’s a significant reduction from the norm. A campaign this short is going to force all teams to make major adjustments to whatever plans they had in mind for 2020.
One goal the Cleveland Indians had for this summer was to get slugger Franmil Reyes more time in the outfield. How often he’d be there remained to be determined, but it was clear he was going to get a fair shot to improve his fielding.
With the Indians now getting around 100 fewer games to work with in the months ahead, the adjustment they need to make with this project is clear.
They need to put Reyes in the outfield as frequently as possible.
Again, a role expansion for Reyes was already planned for this season before everything was paused by a pandemic. During his exit interview last fall, he told the Indians he wanted to be more than a designated hitter, and proved his dedication by arriving at spring training 18 lbs lighter.
However, it initially seemed as though Reyes would still be alternating between right field and DH, potentially rotating with Domingo Santana or one of the other members of Cleveland’s outfield herd. The reality was that, while his offseason efforts were impressive, his defensive numbers still leave a lot of room for improvement.
Said numbers won’t get better until Reyes gets more time in the field. Which is why Cleveland, during a season this abbreviated, should scrap any plans which involve positional rotations and make him an everyday outfielder.
Yes, there’s a chance such a move causes some damage to Cleveland’s overall defense. For as badly as Reyes wants to prove his ability to play in the outfield, his performance to date is undeniably unsightly.
He’s coming off a season where, among all players, his defensive runs saved (-11) and defensive runs above average (-11.5) ranked in the bottom 20. In terms of outfield jump -- which measures the reaction, burst and route an outfielder takes on plays with a 90% catch probability or lower -- only 18 players were slower than Reyes (-2.0 feet vs. average).
Admittedly, the winter weight loss may help with that last one. Still, his fielding won’t get better overnight, and the only way he can attempt to improve it is through a considerable amount of playing time.
Normally, 90 or so games could qualify as "considerable playing time" in the outfield. This summer, there won’t even be 90 games to play, period.
Over his two years in the league, Reyes has logged a total of 1,212 outfield innings, an average of 606 per season. If this summer’s campaign lands around 65 games, that’s a total of 585 available innings, plus a few more to account for any games which remain tied after the ninth.
In order to ensure Reyes gets an honest chance in the outfield, the Indians will need to give him as many of those innings as they can.
Essentially, we’re no longer talking about this as an experiment. It’s an audition.
Reyes wants to show the Indians he can be a solution to their muddled outfield. As a result, they need to let him endure the growing pains this summer. Limiting his time in the field during a shortened campaign and kicking the can to next year is only going to hinder defensive development.
There will be struggles. We’ll surely see hiccups. Yet, those are necessary for Reyes, as growing from them will make him a better outfielder. He can’t get the hook if he logs a few errors, because this limits his opportunity to learn from it.
Likewise, if Cleveland wants to give another player some time in the field, move Reyes around. For example, if the Tribe wants someone like Tyler Naquin in right, let Reyes play in left.
We all know Reyes is going to be an everyday presence in the lineup this season. He’s coming off a year where his barrel rate (14.8%), average exit velocity (93.3 mph) and hard hit percentage (51.0%) all ranked in the upper echelon of the majors.
However, Cleveland needs to make him an everyday presence in the field, as well.
Bottom line -- Indians fans spent much of the offseason begging the team to pursue an outfield power bat. Reyes has a chance to fill that role this summer, and considering he’s under team control through 2024, the Indians would certainly welcome that outcome.
However, they don’t know if he’s able to pull it off just yet, and they won’t know for sure until they get an honest look at him defensively.
In a 65 game season, that means putting Reyes in the field on an everyday basis.