SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Mets prospect Matt Reynolds got a head start on his departure. Out of the lineup for the finale of the Arizona Fall League, he spent the hours leading up to first pitch on Thursday gathering his belongings for the long trip ahead.
At game's end, he caravaned with fellow Mets prospect Brandon Nimmo to Albuquerque, New Mexico. From there, they split up and Reynolds moved on his own to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he will spend part of the winter training at the indoor baseball facilities at the University of Arkansas. It will be there that Reynolds officially ends what has been the most pivotal year of his career.
"I feel like I'm pretty close to playing in the big leagues," said Reynolds, 23.
Reynolds hit .355 with a homer and 21 RBIs in 58 games with Double-A Binghamton to earn a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he hit .333 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 68 games.
But it was with his glove that Reynolds opened some eyes. He had been a standout third baseman at Arkansas when the Mets chose him in the second round of the 2012 draft and moved him to shortstop.
Scouts believed he'd wind up as a utilityman, but his work defensively at shortstop has earned some converts.
"This year has been a really good year for me," Reynolds said. "I've gained a lot of confidence from it. And I've also seen what aspects I need to improve on a lot. It's been a fun year, and the fall league has just helped out a lot more."
Now that the Mets have addressed their most glaring need of the offseason by signing outfielder Michael Cuddyer, their most pressing question is at shortstop. And Reynolds might fit as insurance if the Mets don't trade for a shortstop this offseason and top internal candidate Wilmer Flores can't seize the opportunity.
One talent evaluator believes Reynolds could be a viable option to begin the season in the big leagues, but the Mets prefer not to put too much on his plate.
"Do I realistically think Reynolds is going to be an option at the beginning of the season? Probably not," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "Could it happen? Yeah, it could happen. [But] we don't want to put ourselves in a position where we have to do something with one of the guys who's untested."
Still, Reynolds has turned himself into a possible solution, one that didn't exist at the start of the season.
During his stint in the Arizona Fall League, Reynolds surprised some scouts with his ability to handle the defensive rigors of shortstop. One talent evaluator came away impressed with Reynolds' instincts at the position.
"I wasn't buying in during the year," the scout said. "But the more I stacked him up with some other guys in the AFL, the more I'm convinced he can be a steady all-around player."
Reynolds said his experience on the lightning-quick infield at Triple-A Las Vegas accelerated his growth at shortstop.
"I've gotten a lot better with my hands and being able to read the hops and everything," Reynolds said. "That all comes from repetition and just playing in games, taking ground balls."
Mostly, though, Reynolds said he benefited from game action. After playing 126 games between Double-A and Triple-A, Reynolds tacked on 21 more games in the fall league.
"I've played in a lot of games this year, the most I've ever played in a year," said Reynolds, who hit .234 for the Scottsdale Scorpions. "It can only help you because there's a lot of things you can learn only by playing the game and not in practice."