As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player who will be on the Opening Day roster and how he could impact the team. Today, we turn our attention to the Indians’ 2013 designated hitter: Mark Reynolds.
Background: The Arizona Diamondbacks took Reynolds out of the University of Virginia in the 16th round of the 2004 MLB amateur draft. Never considered a top prospect, upon reaching The Show in 2007 he quickly established himself as the player he is today: a solid hitter who racks up a ton of walks, a ton of homers, and a ton of strikeouts. He spent the last two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, who non-tendered him in November, clearing the way for the Indians to sign him.
Last year: Reynolds had something of a down year in 2012, hitting .221/.335/.429 with 25 home runs, 65 runs scored, 69 RBI, and just one stolen base—his partial rookie year excepted, all those counting stats represented career lows. He demonstrated excellent plate discipline with a 14% walk rate and a career-best (though still high) 30% strikeout rate, but his usually prodigious power wasn’t at its usual level (.208 ISO). Reviews of his defense were mixed, with scouts loving his glove at first base but defensive metrics’ assessments ranging from around average (-2 DRS) to outright sieve-like (-15.1 FRAA).
Key factor: Power. In some ways you know what to expect from Reynolds each year—a batting average in the low .200’s and an on-base percentage in the low-to-mid .300’s. The question is how hard he pummels the ball when he makes contact. Looking at the last five years, Reynolds’ slugging percentage has jumped at least 50 points in one direction or another every season.
Barring some unforeseen dramatic change in Reynolds’ approach he’ll be a solid contributor somewhere near the middle of the order in 2013 no matter what, but there’s a big difference between slugging .400 and slugging .500.
Like I said—variations on a theme, with the only real difference being power. And even the slugging projections aren’t as varied as I would have expected.
Best-case scenario: Combine the plate discipline Reynolds showed in 2012 with the return of the power he lost from 2011 and Reynolds looks like one of the best hitters in the division. Despite his official title of “DH” he gets plenty of opportunities to show off his stellar defense at first base. He makes a run at a .500 slugging percentage, no one complains about his strikeouts, and he ends up in the same league as fellow newcomers Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in terms of what he brings to the Tribe in 2013.
Worst-case scenario: This time the power drop was permanent. The Indians are essentially stuck with a league-average hitter who strikes out a ton and can’t be trusted with a glove. His $6 million salary looks like an overpay and Cleveland fans spend all season complaining about his strikeouts.
What to expect: Bill James‘ projection looks about right. He’s no longer the home run machine he was during his heyday but he still has more pop in his bat than he showed last season.