It’s a sunny, humid Wednesday morning at Marlins Park. Roof open.
Sean Reynolds dominates batting practice with plenty of hard contact. The 6-foot-7 slugger who led the Short-Season A New York-Penn League in home runs this season usually knows off the bat when he’s put one over the fence.
But the results aren’t quite the same in this environment. Fly balls keep dying on the warning track for Reynolds and his Marlins instructional league teammates.
“It’s a pitcher’s park no matter how you look at it,” Reynolds tells Fish Stripes the next day. “But at the same time, that can help—if you can find the gaps, you can run forever.”
They have taken the bus ride down from Jupiter to play against top Washington Nationals prospects in front of scouts and local media. Reynolds starts at first base and hits in the cleanup spot. He draws two walks, but also strikes out in the bottom of the ninth inning, stranding the potential go-ahead run on third base. The exhibition ends in a tie, 1-1.
Reynolds will get his shot at redemption someday.
The 20-year-old is easily the top first base prospect in the Marlins organization coming off a breakout summer with the Batavia Muckdogs. Manager Mike Jacobs (the former big leaguer) praised Reynolds for improvements he’s made offensively and defensively in an interview with Howard B. Owens of The Batavian. Adam McInturff, assistant director of pro scouting content at 2080 Baseball, saw him carry that momentum into the instructional league.
“It’s stupid how easy he gets into one,” McInturff tells Fish Stripes.
The Redondo Beach, California native was committed to Rice University, but thrived as both a pitcher and hitter during his senior season at Redondo Union High School. Despite leading that 2016 team to 21 straight wins and a national ranking, Reynolds describes his 18-year-old self as “really skinny and under-developed.”
He expected to be selected in the MLB draft, just by one of the other teams.
“The Marlins really weren’t on my radar in terms of contact with me until two or three weeks before the draft,” he says. (Fish Stripes has heard similar stories from other members of that draft class.)
They made Reynolds their fourth-round pick—No. 113 overall—and informed him of the plan to specialize as a position player. Tim McDonald made the recommendation, the same Los Angeles-area scout who vouched for multi-sport star Mike Stanton prior to the 2007 draft (h/t Joe Frisaro, MLB.com).
Within a few weeks, Reynolds was signed and getting professional plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League. The results were rough: .179/.278/.243 slash line with just one home run in 73 combined games with the 2016 and 2017 GCL Marlins. He demonstrated more in-game power after an August 2017 promotion to Batavia, but his overall production still lagged far below the league average (84 wRC+, per FanGraphs).
Inexperience factored into that—Reynolds was a teenager frequently matching up with college arms. He batted 370 times from 2016-2017, only 19 of those against opponents who were younger than him.
However, Reynolds also admits that Muckdogs management failed to find adequate living arrangements for the players:
“Last year, we were in a certain hotel that was just horrendous. The rooms were tiny, the showers were dirty, the sink was bad, the beds weren’t clean—everything on the checklist about a nice hotel room was just not there. You didn’t feel comfortable taking your shoes off and walking around, let alone your socks. The carpet, the showers and bathrooms were absolutely atrocious.”
That may have been partially to blame for what happened on the field.
“If you literally dread going to your job, like it’s an office desk job that you’ve been working for 10 years that you’re so sick of, there’s a problem there,” he says.
The 2018 season was a much different story. New team management, new hotel, new Sean Reynolds.
And there were another 14 of those. Reynolds mashed 17 home runs on his way to an NYPL All-Star selection. To put that in perspective, the Connecticut Tigers (Detroit Tigers affiliate) had 18 home runs as a team this past summer.
No individual finished close to Reynolds in the power department. These are the only players who had even half as many homers:
New York-Penn League Home Run Leaders, 2018
|Sean Reynolds||Batavia Muckdogs||17||76|
|Luis Encarnación||Tri-City ValleyCats||10||44|
|Chris Betts||Hudson Valley Renegades||9||56|
|Ben Pelletier||Williamsport Crosscutters||9||69|
But we’re just gettin’ started with the extreme stats.
Reynolds was the only player at any MiLB level with a batting average below .200 (.193 BA) and a slugging percentage above .400 (.441 SLG) among those with 300-plus plate appearances. His 42.0 percent strikeout rate was second-worst for a minor league first baseman, trailing Braves prospect Braxton Davidson (44.2 K%).
Focused on elevating everything, Reynolds posted a freakishly low 24.6 percent ground ball rate. FanGraphs has batted ball data going back to 2002, including 2,542 qualified seasons for MLB batters. Hall of Famer Frank Thomas is the only big leaguer in that sample who got regular playing time with fewer grounders (he did it in 2002, 2003 and 2006).
Reynolds proved that there’s more than one dimension to his game. He finished with 13 stolen bases on 14 attempts, a much higher total than anybody on the major league Marlins. That’s sure to draw attention from the player development staff, who have put an emphasis on getting more athletic under the direction of Gary Denbo.
As Reynolds explains, it just took some time to adjust to his long limbs:
“Until I got really tall, I was always known as one of the faster kids on any of the teams I played on growing up. Then I sprouted up and lost some of my body control and didn’t know how to run yet, how to use my legs. Now that’s I’ve been growing into my size the last two years, I’ve gotten a lot of that back.”
The majority of Reynolds’ 2018 success came at Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium (.254/.361/.562, 11 HR at home; .136/.253/.329, 6 HR on road). Aside from a much more comfortable living situation, he credits the new groundskeepers, who did “an unreal job” addressing the infamously poor field conditions. They also installed a new screen over the center-field batter’s eye to add more contrast between the ball and the background.
“The backdrop itself was dark anyway, so at nighttime, the ball was pretty lit up,” he says.
Reynolds takes pride in being part of a competitive team. The Muckdogs posted a 36-40 record, their best since 2013.
It would be extra special for him to help get the Marlins back into contention. The Reynolds family spent two years living in Jupiter, overlapping with the 2003 World Series championship. Memories of meeting Juan Pierre and Mike Lowell as a young boy still stick with him.
From what he saw during instructional league, Reynolds believes there’s enough talent coming through the farm system to reach that elite level:
“I’ll look around and I’m like, ‘Wow, there are some guys who can really play!’ Obviously, Miami’s gone through a pretty tough stretch, but that can get turned around here. I don’t want to make any guarantees or give a deadline, but in the next couple years, I’m hoping I can have a lot to do with that.”
Speaking to Reynolds, he’s uncommonly articulate and detail-oriented for a 20-year-old. Howard B. Owens “watched him grow in confidence and become a quiet team leader” over the past two seasons while covering him in Batavia. These qualities will serve him well moving forward in his career.
Next up, Reynolds should be joining the Low-A Clinton LumberKings in 2019. Prepping for his first season of full-season ball, he’ll spend much of the winter in the weight room and start taking swings again by early November “out of boredom.” With a combination of extra experience and plate discipline, he insists that there will be more balls put into play, which would earn him more respect from talent evaluators.
“I don’t have to rush to get to a certain pitch,” Reynolds says. “I know how good I can be.”