Fast Company (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday May 1, 2007 11:23AM; Updated: Thursday May 3, 2007 5:14PM
Still, when the question becomes which of the three will be considered the best when all is said and done, Rollins won't top many lists. Last December, Ken Griffey Jr. cited Ramirez as the player he'd pick to start a franchise. Most baseball people, though, covet Reyes even more. "I love Hanley Ramirez, I love Jimmy Rollins, but Jose Reyes is the guy I would pick of the three," says Washington Nationals G.M. Jim Bowden. "He has the highest upside."
The scene at 10:30 p.m. in the visiting clubhouse in Miami on April 24, after the Braves had beaten Ramirez and the Marlins 11-6, illustrates just how much respect the 23-year-old Reyes has earned as he plays in just his third full season in the big leagues. With the team bus idling outside, several Braves -- including pitcher Tim Hudson, utilityman Pete Orr and rightfielder Jeff Francoeur -- pause on their way back from the showers, towels around their waists, to watch the TV perched above the lockers as Reyes bats against Colorado reliever Ryan Speier with a man on third and two outs in the 12th inning, the score tied 1-1. "They're pitching to him!" shouts Francoeur. "Oh, man, this game's over. All he's going to do is chop one on the ground and beat it out."
Reyes takes the first pitch for a ball and fouls off the second before laying off two off-speed pitches just off the plate. Then Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta stands and calls for an intentional ball four. "Now you're being smart!" Francoeur says.
The next batter, Endy Chavez, drags a bunt down the first base line to win the game for New York, eliciting a chorus of expletives in Atlanta's clubhouse. But Reyes's at bat shows how he's developed. "He is the most improved player in the league the last few years, by far," says Mets teammate Carlos Delgado. "In 2005, when I was [with Florida], you looked at him as a guy who had a lot of potential -- he can really run, he's got a strong arm -- but then he'd swing at three sliders in the dirt."
"There was a stretch of time when he'd swing at particular pitches," agrees Braves starter John Smoltz. "Now, he doesn't." In 2005 Reyes, who's a switch-hitter like Rollins, struck out 78 times and walked 27. Last year he improved that ratio to 81 to 53. This season? He's walked 16 times and struck out only 11. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Reyes, who had a .442 on-base percentage through Monday, has a chance to be only the second player in the last 50 years to make the leap from a .300 or lower OBP to a .400 or better OBP within two seasons (Rico Petrocelli did it in the late 1960s).
"I just try to get on base, no matter how," says Reyes, who attributes much of his improvement to the influence of Rickey Henderson, whom G.M. Omar Minaya has brought into camp for the past two springs to tutor Reyes in the art of leadoff hitting. "We talk about how to steal a base, how to take pitches, how to hit with two strikes -- stuff he was doing when he played. He said, 'You can steal 100 if you want to.'"
Rollins has noticed the impact that Henderson, whom Rollins idolized while growing up outside Oakland, has had on Reyes. "His first year he was running," Rollins says. "Now he's stealing."
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