Diving Into Franmil Reyes’ 2022 and the Royals DH Situation This Spring

On February 15th, the Royals made a surprise addition to the Cactus League roster by signing outfielder/designated hitter Franmil Reyes on a Minor League deal.

The move was a bit of a surprising one for a couple of reasons.

First off, it was a bit shocking to see that no other club had picked up Reyes prior to the Royals’ signing, especially since Reyes produced a .846 OPS and a 30 home-run season back in 2021 with the Cleveland Guardians.

Second, it was a bit jarring to see JJ Picollo and the Royals front office not done making moves by adding a power bat who could ascend to the DH role for the Royals in 2023, if he can fix some of the problems that plagued him with the Guardians and Cubs in 2022. The Royals in the past two seasons have championed “turning around” hitters with their hitting development team led by Drew Saylor. Reyes seems like a prime candidate to benefit from such tutelage, especially since he needs to have a good year in Kansas City if he wants to continue to play in Major League Baseball beyond this season.

Can Reyes have that “bounce back” year in Kansas City and turn things around at the plate, much like Drew Waters did last season or even Maikel Franco in 2020 or Jorge Soler in 2019? Could Reyes be that “big power bat” that could help the Royals in the middle of the lineup?

Reyes brings some intriguing excitement to this Royals Spring Training roster, but safe to say, he will certainly have some competition for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Reyes’ Struggles in 2022

In 2021, Reyes was one of the most feared designated hitters in the AL Central.

In 115 games and 466 plate appearances with Cleveland, the Dominican-born outfielder slashed .254/.324/.522 with a 126 wRC+ and also added 30 home runs and 85 RBI, according to Fangraphs.

Of designated hitters who accumulated 450 or more plate appearances in 2021, Reyes ranked 5th in wOBA, which put him ahead of other designated hitters such as Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, Austin Meadows, Trey Mancini, and even Soler.

It’s not a surprise that expectations were high for Reyes in 2022, especially if he could play less time in the outfield, as his porous defense was a big reason why his fWAR was only 1.2 in 2021.

Unfortunately, Reyes struggled at the plate right off the bat for the Guardians last season.

Reyes only hit .135 with a .385 OPS in 77 plate appearances in the month of April. His problems were particularly compounded by Reyes striking out 35 times (a 45.5 percent rate) and only walking three times (a 3.5 percent rate). Add that with only a .216 BABIP, and it’s not a surprise that Reyes produced a .172 wOBA and 5 wRC+ in the first month of play, according to Fangraphs splits.

As Royals fans can see below, Reyes performed better once the weather got warmer, as he produced solid, though not spectacular, numbers in May and June.

That being said, while the wRC+ numbers were serviceable in those two months, the high strikeout rates (51.6 percent in June) and low BB/K ratios (only above 0.20 once from April to July) still were major red flags. Furthermore, while there was a spike in his xwOBA after a cold start, his xwOBA chart shows that he probably experienced some batted ball luck during those May and June months, especially when comparing it to his rolling wOBA chart, via Savant.

(Notice the difference in xwOBA from wOBA around the 250 plate appearance mark.)

After a lackluster July in which his wRC+ was only 83, and a first half in which his wRC+ was 73, Cleveland made the difficult decision to designate the talented but struggling Reyes for assignment.

Reyes didn’t stay on waivers for long, as the Cubs immediately picked him up to handle DH duties for the remainder of the season. Initially, there was a bit of a boost in his new surroundings, as he hit .273 with a 123 wRC+ in August, which was his best month at the plate in 2022.

However, Reyes regressed in the month of September/October, as he only posted a wRC+ of 66 (though to be fair, he did post a walk rate of 11.9 percent, his best walk rate in a month in 2022). As a result, the Cubs decided to non-tender Reyes this offseason, even though he is only 27 years old and has a couple of years remaining of club control.

And this led to Reyes finding himself in Kansas City in February after an offseason where he received no MLB offers from other clubs this winter.

Can the Royals Help Reyes Fix His Issues?

When looking at Reyes’ Statcast profile via Baseball Savant, it is interesting to note the mixture of red and blue in his percentile rankings chart from last season.

When it came to power, there weren’t many hitters in baseball who could connect with the ball like Reyes.

He ranked in the 92nd percentile in average exit velocity, 85th percentile in max exit velocity, and 80th percentile in barrel rate. That shows that Reyes’ power tool is still as prodigious as in years past, which was a big reason why he was such a heralded prospect in the Padres system at one period of time.

In addition, there wasn’t a major regression in those “power” metrics from what Reyes had produced over his career, especially when looking at his year-by-year percentile rankings on Savant.

There were huge dups in expected metrics (ones with x), and his walk rate did see a massive drop as well. Those metrics will be worth paying attention to by the Royals, especially since his expected numbers were so consistent from 2019 to 2021.

That said, an interesting trend is that there wasn’t much of a regression chase rate in 2022. In fact, his 57th percentile ranking was actually the second-best ranking of his career (after 2021).

Basically, it meant that Reyes just “whiffed” more on pitches thrown in the strike zone last season. And that is confirmed when looking at the plate discipline data via Fangraphs.

When looking at Reyes as a hitter last season in terms of his actual hitting clips, some of his struggles could be credited to changes in his batting stance from 2021 to 2022.

In this GIF compilation below, notice the difference in Reyes’ 2021 stance (when he literally hit a home run out of Progressive Field) from his stance in the first half of 2022 (with Cleveland) and the second half of 2022 (with Chicago).

Now, let’s freeze-frame his 2021 stance, right when the pitcher lifts his knee.

Now, let’s take a look at his stance in the first half and second half from last season, frozen at the same point in the pitcher’s pitching motion (when he lifts his knee).

The image on the right side is from the first half, while the image on the left is from the second half. Let’s break down the differences for each.

In the first half, he employs a more open stance, as his left foot is closer to the edge of the batter’s box in comparison to his stance in 2021. However, he is relaxed and the front elbow is dropped, which mirrors what he did in 2021. Except for the open approach, things stayed the same, though I think the open stance affected his ability to hit the ball hard, as his soft hit rate (14.4 percent) was much higher than the second half (12.5 percent).

Reyes closed his stance again in the second half, which is obvious in his clip with the Cubs. However, it’s not the same stance overall as his 2021 one. He’s bending his knees more and his front elbow is way more up. As a result of this adjustment, he is able to go with the ball to the opposite field more with this stance, but it also resulted in more groundballs (52.6 percent to 41.7 percent in the first half) and fewer line drives as well (15.1 percent to 21.2 percent in the second half).

In addition, when comparing his wOBA zone charts from the first half to the second half, Reyes did connect with more balls on the outside edge (especially zone 3). On the flip side, pitches thrown right in the heart of the zone (zone 5) were sacrificed as a result.

If the Royals hitting development team can work with him to be more consistent in his stance, that could help Reyes get back to those 2019 to 2021 numbers. On a positive end, in a video from 610 AM Royals insider Josh Vernier, it seems like Reyes is reverting to a stance closer to his 2021, based on him standing in as a batter during a recent bullpen session at Royals camp in Surprise.

Let’s hope that Reyes transitions this stance to at-bats in Cactus League play.

Reyes’ Competition at DH This Spring

When it comes to candidates who will compete for the DH spot on Opening Day, it is likely that it will come down to Reyes, non-roster invitee Matt Beaty (who played last year with the Padres), and internal 40-man options Edward Olivares and Nick Pratto (though it’s likely that Pratto would be first base and Vinnie Pasquantino would become the regular DH as I discussed in my initial Opening Day roster predictions).

In terms of how they compare, I looked at the past two years of data for all four hitters, via Fangraphs. That is a bit of a disadvantage to Pratto (since he didn’t have any MLB at-bats in 2021), but it does give us a better sample of what each of the four hitters could bring to the Royals’ DH spot in 2023.

As Royals fans can see, Reyes has the most home run and power upside of the bunch, as he is the only one of these four who has accumulated double-digit home runs (44 to be specific). That said, his ISO is only one point higher than Pratto, and his BABIP is 61 points higher than Pratto’s as well (though Pratto doesn’t hit the ball nearly as hard as Reyes).

Olivares does present the best batting average upside, as he has hit .267 and his 101 wRC+ is only one point lower than Reyes’ over the past two seasons. And Beaty shouldn’t be slept on either, as he has the lowest strikeout rate of the bunch, and could fit in a platoon role better than Reyes, due to Beaty being a left-handed hitter (he can rest on days when Salvy needs to slot in at DH).

Obviously, once Cactus League games are played, Royals fans will get a better idea of who will stick on this Royals roster, and who will eventually part way before the conclusion of Cactus League play. There are pluses and minuses of each of the four candidates, and it really will come down to what Matt Quatraro and the Royals want in the lineup when it comes to who will earn DH (or platoon DH) duties.

Do the Royals want that raw power production in the mold of Soler? Then Reyes is the guy.

Do they want a guy who can play the outfield, in addition to DH? Then Olivares or Beaty may be a better option for that roster spot.

Or do they want to look at and develop their core in the long term? If so, Pratto seems like a more sensible fit at first with Pasquantino becoming the DH.

Quatraro and Picollo have options to explore this Spring…

And that puts the Royals in a heck of a lot better spot for Opening Day in 2023 in comparison to the past couple of years, where a lack of options and depth eventually hurt the club over the course of the season.

Photo Credit: Ron Schwane/Getty Images


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