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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The TinCaps’ Ruddy Giron triples on a line drive to left field in the first inning of Friday night’s game against Kane County at Parkview Field. The game was delayed by rain.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette TinCaps’ players wait out a rain delay before the start of Friday night’s game against Kane County at Parkview Field.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 4:17 am

Reyes keeps focus on contact

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

Franmil Reyes looks like a slugger who would try to channel the ghost of Babe Ruth with every swing. With his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame, Reyes may still be a power hitter should he reach the major leagues.

But the TinCaps’ right fielder is not taking that approach this season.

When the 19-year-old Reyes steps to the plate, he’s focused on using the whole field and making more frequent, more solid contact.

That’s what he wants. And that’s what the San Diego Padres’ decision-makers want to see before they move Reyes higher in their farm system.

Early on, it was a struggle for Reyes, who batted .206 with just one extra-base hit in 63 at-bats in April.

But by not wavering from his general plan, and by trusting in Fort Wayne hitting coach Lance Burkhart, Reyes has found his sea legs.

He started to heat up in May, with a .752 on-base plus slugging percentage.

And Reyes entered Friday’s game against Kane County, which was delayed more than two hours by rain at the start, enjoying a terrific start to June.

In his first eight games this month, Reyes drove in four runs with three doubles, five walks and a homer, not to mention a .925 OPS.

"He’s been working real hard," TinCaps manager Francisco Morales said. "He has lately been putting things together. His two-strike approach is improving."

Reyes spent all of last year in Fort Wayne, driving in 59 runs with 11 long balls and a .248 average. If not spectacular, it was certainly a nice season for a teenager from the Dominican Republic.

Reyes, signed in 2011 as an international free agent, was rated by MLB.com as the No. 20 prospect in San Diego’s system after last season.

But the Padres wanted to see the strikeouts come down from 118 in 2014 and for Reyes’ on-base percentage to rise from .301. Those goals led to the decision for Reyes not to focus on his homer total.

He’s also better thinking through his at-bats, saying that he knows a pitcher could throw a changeup or slider even in a 2-0 or 3-1 count.

"My approach right there is just be chill," Reyes said. "I’m trying to put the ball in play."

Despite hitting in the middle of Morales’ lineup all season, Reyes has remained true to that mindset of patience and staying back on pitches to hit to the opposite field, which, for Reyes as a right-handed batter, is to right field.

"Yeah, yeah, that is going to help me way better," he said. "When I started the season, if those pitches were going to be outside and I tried to pull it, I failed.

"Now when I have started hitting the ball to all fields, that’s helped me, and I am doing way better."

Morales said he is excited about the signs he’s seeing in regard to his young outfielder, who turns 20 on July 7.

"We’re close," he said, "to seeing the Franmil Reyes who is being the type of player that we all know he can be."

cgoff@jg.net