Is Reyes a possibility in Tribe's outfield?

February 23rd, 2021

One of the Indians’ clubhouse workers was cleaning some baseballs on Monday afternoon and made a comment about how the balls aren’t flying the same way they were in 2020. As Franmil Reyes walked by, he went right up to the clubbie's ear and said, “When Franmil hits it, let’s see how far it goes.”

Reyes told the story to reporters on Monday and ended it with his indistinguishable belly laugh. But despite his jovial, light-hearted nature, he certainly wasn’t joking about his statement. There has been talk about the differences in distance that the baseballs that are being used this year are traveling compared to last year, but the Indians' slugger hasn't noticed a thing.

If Reyes has a spring like last year, it would be difficult for him to notice any differences. He was as hot as could be at the plate when COVID-19 put everything on hold for over three months. During the pause in action, Reyes didn’t see live pitching and returned to Summer Camp in July, attempting to play catch-up. Now, he’s hoping to start the 2021 season on a much stronger note.

“A perfect season for me would be just get to learn and get to do the things that I didn’t get to do last year,” Reyes said. “Obviously I want to play some defense this year. I would love that opportunity. And do whatever I have to do to get wins for my team. That’s all that matters to me right now, man.”

Is Reyes in the outfield a possibility? He sprained his right ankle while practicing at home a few weeks ago, but said it’s nothing that will prevent him from playing now. However, his defense may still be what holds him back. The Indians tried Reyes in the outfield last spring, but only put him in left for five innings last season. But he took reps in the outfield and at first base this winter, so putting him in the field isn’t completely off the table.

“If he's not pigeon-holed into the DH, that opens up certainly other opportunities for other people,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Saying that, you want to put your best defensive team out on the field. That's the goal. … The other thing to think about is when we go to the National League cities, we'd really like to not have to sit him, especially if he's swinging the bat really well.”

If it was up to Reyes, he’d try to work his way back out to right field.

“When you’re in the outfield and you make an incredible play and you come to hit in that inning, that sensation, the way you feel is different than just sitting there and watching the game,” Reyes said. “It’s not the same. But when you’re sitting there, you know you have to do your thing to be ready for your at-bat. But when you’re moving around in the outfield, you feel better and, like you said, it’s way easier to go up there and try to hit.”

Reyes has had a season-and-a-half with the Tribe now to better adjust to the DH role. Last August, he showed everyone just how much of a boost he can give this lineup when his bat is hot, hitting .313 with a .954 OPS, seven homers and 22 RBIs in 27 games. But the second he got comfortable with his success at the plate is when his numbers started to dip. Now, he knows what he needs to do to be more consistent for a longer stretch.

“I stopped doing my routines and stuff like that because I was like, ‘OK I got this,’” Reyes said. “No. I won’t do that anymore. When I start feeling good like that, I’m just gonna keep working and keep working harder and harder.”

Reyes can absolutely be the spark the Indians need, both in the lineup and in the clubhouse. With the loss of more veterans like Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco and Carlos Santana, the team has gotten very young very quickly. Despite the fact that media hasn’t been able to be around the team and fans haven’t been able to be in the stands, no one needs to be in the building to notice how much Reyes’ teammates light up when he’s talked about or comes around.

“I'm blessed to see that guy daily,” teammate Josh Naylor said. “His energy, I feed off his energy. When he comes in the locker room singing or screaming or saying whoever's name, you know it's going to be a good day because he's bringing that loving energy into the locker room and the clubhouse.”

Reyes was around Lindor for a season and a half, and that all the more he needed to adopt some of Lindor’s leadership style. Reyes loved the fact that Lindor enjoyed when people doubted his team and used it as motivation. And now that the Indians are more inexperienced this year than they have been in a while, they know they’re no longer the favorites in the AL Central, and Reyes has learned to embrace that.

“I know we’re gonna make a lot of noise,” Reyes said. “Watch out.”