Port St. Lucie - From his new perspective, on a distant
field in the minor-league complex, 18-year-old shortstop Jose Reyes is not
making bold predictions about when he will be ready to play for the Mets. "If I
keep working hard, it could be soon," he said through an interpreter. "But I
don't really know."
In other words, he has enough confidence in his talent to let his future
take care of itself. So do the Mets.
Reyes was perhaps the one phenom in Mets camp this year before he was
reassigned to the minors Monday. "He kept his mouth shut and he did what young
guys should do: He learned and he listened. He worked hard and played hard,"
general manager Steve Phillips said. "He's a fabulous talent, and I think we
just saw glimpses of what we expect to see in the future."
What the Mets saw was a 6-foot, 160-pound infielder who can make dazzling
plays in the field and can run "powerfully," in Phillips' view. They saw a
switch hitter who can drive the ball into the gaps (he had a double and a
triple in one game). They saw a teenager from Santiago, Dominican Republic who
was friendly, respectful and generally quiet.
That is notwithstanding the day early in camp when he predicted he will be
ready to challenge Rey Ordonez for the starting position next year. As he stood
near a set of metal bleachers filled with fellow minor-leaguers who were
waiting for coaches' instructions the other day, he declined to repeat that
vow. That is to say, he is learning.
"I learned lots of things: bunting, how [Roberto] Alomar and Ordonez field
their position. I learned a lot about hitting from Alomar, too," he said.
After only two years of pro ball, including a .307 season with 22 doubles,
15 triples and 30 stolen bases for Class A Capital City in 2001, Reyes probably
is the top position player in the Mets system. "All the guys over here like
him because of his personality," Mets coach Juan Lopez said in the big-league
clubhouse. "He looks like he belongs on this level. That's the way he
approaches the game.
"And he's smart. You explain something to him once, and that's all it
takes," said Lopez, who knows that better than anyone. Lopez was the hitting
instructor on both of Reyes' professional stops.
Lopez found apartments for Reyes and 15 other Latin American players in
Kingsport, Tenn., two years ago, and lived in the same complex. The coach drove
a van that got the players to and from games. He remembers bringing Reyes to
the bank to cash his paycheck, and to the grocery store. He was the father
figure to whom the teenager could talk about anything that was on his mind.
Last year, Lopez put Reyes in an apartment with teammate Enrique Cruz, who had
Reyes studies a book of Spanish-to-English phrases. He takes English
courses that the Mets offer. "How are you? How do you feel today?" he said in
English. His favorite player is not one of the many shortstops who are
celebrities in his country. It is Alex Rodriguez. "I like how he plays the
game. He plays without pressure, also without fear," Reyes said.
There will be no fear in Reyes when he starts the season in either a
high-Class A league or Double-A. "Defensively, he can play at either level,"
Phillips said. "I think what we want to do is put him somewhere where he's
going to be able to hit."
Lopez said Reyes has been switch hitting for only two years and has some
flaws in his lefthanded swing. "But they're correctable," the coach said.
Manager Bobby Valentine watched him play in a minor-league game Wednesday
and came back marveling at the four double plays Reyes turned, along with his
line single to right, sacrifice bunt, two runs and stolen base. Said Jim
Duquette, the senior assistant general manager: "Bobby says he's never seen a
guy that good at that age."
The player believes he has to work more on his bunting "and staying in
control of myself." Toward the latter end, he calls his parents every three
days. "They won't be coming here, but I give them updates," Reyes said. "They
didn't think I was going to progress at the rate I have. They're very proud of
how I've grown up as a young man."