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“Arrrr,” they fans at Zephyr Field howl, “Arrr!”
The fans are mimicking the PA announcer who is introducing 25-year-old Argenis – pronounced “Arr-Henis” – Reyes to the crowd.
It’s a swashbuckling ovation for one of the most popular additions to the club.
“I like it and the people so far,” Argenis Reyes said. “I’ve been pretty excited. The organization has been treating (me) well.”
Reyes came to the Mets organization in the offseason, signing as a free agent from the Cleveland Indians’ system. He had spent his entire career with them after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2001 out of the Dominican Republic.
He’s been an igniting presence at the top of the lineup for the Zephyrs, who are 12-9 to start the season and third in the American South division of the PCL. With his team-leading five stolen bases and nine runs, good enough for fourth on the team, he’s been creating a buzz with his quick start to the season.
He made his Triple-A debut with the Zephyrs on opening day and went 3-4 with a RBI and a stolen base, coming out of seemingly nowhere to take over as the team’s regular second baseman.
“He’s definitely showed he can play. He had a great spring training, impressed a lot of people, so he’s somebody on our radar screen,” said Zephyrs hitting coach Jack Voigt.
In 30 at-bats during spring training, Reyes went .433/.433/.633 with one home run.
One thing that he didn’t do during spring training, though, was steal bases, but that’s quickly turned around in 2008. He’s fourth in the PCL with five stolen bases as of April 23, and he leads the team in the category.
Reyes’ has always been an above-average baserunner. In 2006 and 2007 he stole a combined 51 bases between High-A Kinston and Double-A Akron, with an excellent 79 percent success rate. He’s stolen 121 bases in his career and has never been caught at a rate lower than 70 percent in a year.
The problem for Reyes is that he can’t seem to get on base enough to improve on those totals.
While he has shown that he can hit for average at the lower levels, such as when he hit .322/.354/.416 as a 22-year-old in the Class-A South Atlantic League, he hasn’t been able to replicate that success higher up. In 2006 and 2007, when he spent time in High-A and Double-A, he hit a combined .270 with no power to speak of. He mustered only five home runs and slugged a paltry .343.
Even worse has been his plate discipline. His career OBP is just .327, but he’s improved on that part of his game in 2008. In 57 at-bats, he has a 8/9 BB/K ratio, which is particularly encouraging because he’s walking almost twice as much as he has in past years.
Reyes said that he worked during the offseason to improve his approach to the plate. He played in a Dominican league and spent a lot of time in the batting cages, he said.
“His knowledge of the strike zone is pretty good,” Voigt said. “He can run, he’s in the leaders in stolen bases already in this league, and he has the ability to bunt and spray the ball around. But that’s what he’s going to have to remain doing: playing the small ball that he’s capable of doing.”
Voigt does feel that there’s more room for improvement.
“There’s been a little bit of impatience at times, but there’s been other times where he’s been very patient. So, I think it’s just a matter of him learning this league. He’s making a step up from Double-A to Triple-A,” Voigt said.
Reyes’ lack of power is to be expected considering his smallish, 5-10 frame. He is only listed at 165 pounds and doesn’t have a power stroke, preferring to pound the ball into the ground instead and trying to beat out the throw.
In fact Reyes is a groundball machine, hitting them 58 and 57 percent of the time in 2006 and 2007, respectively. That rate is similar to Los Angeles Dodgers player Juan Pierre, a notorious ground ball hitter who had 59 and 56 percent in that same time span.
But Pierre was able to carve out a career with a pair of the fastest legs in the majors, something that Reyes simply doesn’t have, though his speed is above-average. Reyes is going to have to scrape his way into the majors by sticking to his respectable defense and providing the bunt.
Fortunately, he has showed nice range as a second baseman; in his minor league career his range factor has been 4.73, which is on par with Mets incumbent Luis Castillo’s 4.68 career range.
“Defensively, he’s playing great. Baserunning wise, he’s doing outstanding,” Voigt said. “Offensively, he probably could be a little bit better. He’s gotten a little bit out of synch once in a while, but he’s been very receptive to suggestions. He’s been very receptive to being able to put those suggestions into action.”
Reyes doesn’t project as an everyday player, since his defense and baserunning don’t make up for his very poor on-base skills and power. But if he sticks to what he’s doing, Voigt says, he could definitely catch on in some kind of a utility role, especially considering how volatile the Mets’ current situation is.
“He’s not a guy that’s going to hit 3-4-6 in the lineup in the major leagues,” Voigt said. “He’s going to hit 1 and 2 or he’s going to hit 7 or 8 , which mean he’s got to put the ball in the play, he’s got to move runner over, he’s got to run the bases well, and do the little things.
"If he does that, the sky is the limit.”