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Padres' gamble on Reyes pays dividends

Unprotected in Rule 5 Draft, OF now figures into long-term plans
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- Franmil Reyes remembers that November night vividly. He knew the situation. He knew the Padres needed to add him to the 40-man roster by 8 that night, or his fate with the organization -- the only one he'd ever played for -- would be at the mercy of the Rule 5 Draft.

So Reyes, in his childhood bedroom, waited for the phone call that would tell him he'd been added to the San Diego roster. It never came.

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SAN DIEGO -- Franmil Reyes remembers that November night vividly. He knew the situation. He knew the Padres needed to add him to the 40-man roster by 8 that night, or his fate with the organization -- the only one he'd ever played for -- would be at the mercy of the Rule 5 Draft.

So Reyes, in his childhood bedroom, waited for the phone call that would tell him he'd been added to the San Diego roster. It never came.

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Despite having led all Padres Minor Leaguers with 26 homers last season, Reyes was exposed in the Rule 5 Draft. Two weeks later, he was unselected.

"When the Padres didn't protect me, it was: 'I'm not going to let them know that I'm feeling down,'" Reyes said. "I'm going to give my 100 percent, and I know I'm going to make the Majors this year. So I worked hard. And here I am."

Video: SD@CHC: Reyes launches a 477-foot moonshot to center

Here he is, suddenly factoring prominently into the Padres' long-term outfield plans. At 23, Reyes has exceeded all expectations this season. He tore through Triple-A before earning a promotion to the Majors (and the 40-man roster) in May.

His debut came with some growing pains, and his average slumped to .182 at the end of May. But Reyes has worked out some kinks in his swing. Since his July 11 recall, he's hitting .324/.395/.647 (with a brief spell back in the Minors before Wil Myers' injury).

Lately, Reyes has been the type of young hitter that 29 other clubs could use in the middle of their order. And 29 other clubs had their chance to take him in December.

"There were a lot of people here who believed in him," said Padres manager Andy Green. "But you have 40 spots. You make 40 tough decisions. Some guys are just on the periphery of that. Sometimes it comes down to, 'Hey, do we think somebody's going to take this guy? No. But do we think somebody's going to take this other guy?' That doesn't mean that we necessarily value somebody over somebody else."

To hear the Padres tell it, their decision to leave Reyes unprotected was a calculated risk. Earlier that month, Reyes underwent minor hand surgery. They thought that might dissuade teams from selecting him. His shoddy defense probably had the same effect.

The gamble paid off. But make no mistake: It was a gamble. The Padres almost certainly wouldn't have made it had they foreseen this much success this quickly for Reyes.

"He has stepped up and taken another huge step in his development this year," Green said. "There's no doubt about that. What he did in El Paso, it's off the charts. And what he's done here has been really special, too."

Reyes is a massive human with massive power. His plate approach is already very refined. It's easy to forget he's only 23 years old.

Reyes' emergence was at least partly responsible for the club's decision to experiment with Myers at third base. That experiment says the team is more confident in its long-term corner-outfield options than those for third base. Reyes is an important piece in that mix, alongside Hunter Renfroe, Travis Jankowski and Franchy Cordero.

No question, the Padres have been impressed by the results. They've been just as impressed by the mental side of Reyes' game. Upon his most recent demotion, Reyes watched old videos of his swings and compared them to his current one. He noticed he'd inadvertently increased his leg kick and the length of his swing.

"When I was in Triple-A, everything was quiet, and I was good," Reyes said. "When I got here, maybe there was something in me that was trying to show the people, trying to show the fans, the power I have. I tried too much. It was about trying to slow down my game a little bit and be quieter, react."

It's paid dividends. Reyes is going to play at least semi-regularly down the stretch, with Myers poised to see time at third. It'll be up to Reyes to sustain that success and state his case for the future right-field job.

"He's definitely played his way into the mix," Green said. "He's got more work to do out in front of him. But he has done a lot to draw everybody's attention to his ability."

Noteworthy

• The Padres optioned right-hander Walker Lockett to Triple-A El Paso, a day after he was roughed up for five runs in 4 1/3 innings. Lockett owns a 9.60 ERA in four appearances this season. The move means San Diego will revert to its five-man rotation.

• In Lockett's place, the Padres recalled righty reliever Kazuhisa Makita, who has been excellent at Triple-A, but has struggled in the Majors this season. In 23 appearances for the Padres, Makita has a 7.09 ERA.

Eric Lauer threw his first bullpen session since he was placed on the disabled list with left forearm tightness last month. The Padres remain optimistic Lauer could return to the rotation in August.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Franmil Reyes