BLUEFIELD — It is commonly said that the hardest thing to do in baseball is hit a round ball that is thrown at over 90 miles an hour— even for those that do it for a living.
Making contact is something that the best practice every day. The Bluefield Blue Jays’ Joseph Reyes is continuing to make more of it as part of his goal to reach the majors.
Once the six-foot-three Reyes connects, the ball can travel a long-distance. Half of his hits this season have been for extra bases.
The difficulty for him is making consistent contact against improved pitching and that has been the key point of emphasis from his coaches.
Reyes has not had the season he would have liked to so far. He’s posted a .167 batting average through 23 games.
This is his first season at this level and the improvement in pitching has required some adjustments for Reyes in the batter’s box.
“The way they were pitching me at the beginning was a little bit difficult but then I got the hang of it and just started swinging it and just all came together,” Reyes said.
Reyes revealed some of his potential during the first week of July, when he was named the Appalachian League Player of the Week after hitting four home runs and driving in 10 runs over five games.
That was part of an eight-game stretch where Reyes hit six home runs and had 14 RBIs.
“My game is really RBIs, extra base hits, homer, things to help my team put runs on the board. I only have one job — just to bring them in,” Reyes said.
With that power has also come a lot of strikeouts for Reyes. He has struck out 29 times so far this season, just over a third of his at-bats.
Turning those strikeouts into contact has been what the Bluefield coaching staff is preaching to him. He has the power to drive the ball. He just has to make contact.
“One of the things we’re working with him a lot is get the contact to the play and if he’s making contact he’s going to get success,” Bluefield Blue Jays manager Luis Hurtado said.
Reyes spent two years in the Gulf Coast League, so this is the first time that he’s had to play at night. This takes some adjustment to see the baseball when in the batters’ box.
“It did take some adjustment just getting use to playing at night, trying to see the ball good. You got the sun to shade while hitting, so that makes it a little bit difficult . But I’m getting a hang of it,” Reyes said.
Reyes was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as an international free agent for $300,000 in 2016 due to his hitting potential.
Before his junior year at All Hallows High School in the Bronx, NY, Reyes and his family decided to return to the Dominican Republic.
There were a number of scouts interested in Reyes and he had to change his mentality from trying to get a scholarship to working towards a major league team offering him a contract.
“Your top prospects in high school — you’re looking at a couple scouts but the majority of the time you’re really doing it for college and that was the big difference instead of doing it for college. I was actually doing it for a professional team every time,” Reyes said.
Instead of being picked by a team in the MLB Draft Reyes could choose between multiple teams that had offers for him.
Every time that Reyes played was a showcase for scouts. Each player was fighting for themselves to get one of the limited number of contracts that teams offer.
“That’s what made it more competitive though, you’re not going against teammates. It’s basically you by yourself. You’re going out there to show off what you got every time,” Reyes said.
The goal of all these players is to become a professional. Ultimately, they’d like to have their careers commemorated with plaque is hung in Cooperstown honoring their achievements.
There’s no reason not to think big. To get to the level they are, Reyes and the others had to act as if they were already professionals before they even signed a contract.
“You’re already thinking that you want to be a professional baseball player, that you are a professional baseball player. So you have to grind it out and with time it comes true,” Reyes said.
Having managed Reyes in the GCL, Hurtado has an insight into the power and potential that he has when everything is put together. The important part is taking advantage of every situation where Reyes can showcase his talent.
“He has to just sometimes be more aggressive on fastballs because we can see sometimes he’s taking a couple fastballs. But other than that he’s been doing really good job with his power because he’s a power guy. If he continues hitting the ball he’s going to have a great season,” Hurtado said.
Most players are signed based on flashes of brilliance and have to work hard to find consistent success as they face tougher opposition.
Reyes knows being a professional baseball player means constantly working on improving every part of his game to reach the dream of playing in the MLB.
“I grinded it out and accomplished what I really wanted to be here to be in the system. I know it’s just another grind to get up there to the show,” Reyes said.
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