2002-12-21 / Sports

All Eyes Will Be Focused On Mets’ Reyes

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

Mets super-prospect Jose Reyes sets his sights on the action of the St. Lucie Mets in 2002. It's likely he'll be highlighting the action of the major league club in just a few months. Photo by Ed TsunodaMets super-prospect Jose Reyes sets his sights on the action of the St. Lucie Mets in 2002. It's likely he'll be highlighting the action of the major league club in just a few months. Photo by Ed Tsunoda

Playing shortstop hasn’t always been a flashy, finesse position, but it certainly is now. One look around the majors at stars such as the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra and Texas’ Alex Rodriguez easily cinches that.

Now, picture a player who’s ready to join those ranks at some point. Let’s make him a young and pleasant guy, a solid citizen with an unassuming style like that of Edgardo Alfonzo, except this shortstop is a switch-hitter with a knack for smoking line drives into the gaps and burning around the bases with unbelievable Ichiro-like speed.

To top him off, he’s got the ability to take control of the infield with the eye-popping theatrics of Rey Ordonez, circa 1999. Finally, we’re going to throw a Mets uniform on this player.

You’ve just imagined a glimpse of baseball’s future in Queens. His name: Jose Reyes.

If you haven’t heard of Reyes yet, believe us, you will. The 19-year-old Dominican is so talented and so highly regarded within the Mets’ system, he’s already become the youngest player in both Florida State League (A) and Eastern League (AA) history.

Praise for Reyes has been lavish, from the Mets naming him their Sterling Award winner for the best organizational prospect to being crowned USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year to receiving this past summer’s All-Star Futures Game MVP award.

This year, with the path having been cleared this week by the Mets’ salary dump of problem-case Rey Ordonez to Lou Piniella’s Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Reyes’ arrival at Shea Stadium is imminent. The only question is when.

"We really do think at some point in 2003, Jose Reyes is going to be ready," general manager Steve Phillips told reporters at this past week’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

He hasn’t even stepped into a major league batters’ box for the first time, but already Reyes is the type of name that’s commanding instant respect throughout baseball.

Teams like the Montreal Expos know better than to ask for the prized infielder, even as they search valiantly for someone to overpay for Bartolo Colon, and GMs everywhere are racking their own systems to see if there’s any sort of comparable talent to be found.

There might not be. Early comparisons that have likened Reyes to the "next Alfonso Soriano" are a swipe over the top – like Soriano, Reyes is a wrist hitter with tremendous base-stealing ability (a combined 58 steals between St. Lucie and Binghamton this season), but Reyes doesn’t have Soriano’s 40-homer potential.

That’s fine for the Mets, who don’t need Reyes to replace a Soriano – just the disgruntled Ordonez, who was so reviled by fans following his tirade in which he called the paying crowds at Shea Stadium "stupid" that Bobby Valentine had to sit him for the remainder of the Mets’ season for his own protection.

Even after hitting .288 and .287 at St. Lucie and Binghamton respectively in 2002, Reyes may not be quite ready for The Show – scouts say he sometimes looks raw in the field and could use work on the art of bunting, which is why the Mets are toying with interim options like free-agent Jose Hernandez and light-hitting journeyman Jorge Velandia to start the season while Reyes opens the year at Triple-A Norfolk.

Of course, those plans could easily be scrapped if Reyes can put on an exhibition in March at spring training camp, impressing manager Art Howe to the point where he would feel comfortable penciling his name onto the lineup card on Opening Day, March 31st at Shea.

It’s easy to fantasize about, but if you ask Reyes, his arrival in Queens isn’t something that he’s salivating over night and day.

"I don't really put much emphasis on [watching] the big league team," Reyes said this summer at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, where he opened eyes in the Futures game.

"I'm more about working hard day-to-day right now, and just finding ways to keep making myself better, and the rest will work itself out. I can't worry about what's going to happen in the future."

One thing is clear: whenever Jose Reyes is ready for New York, New York is going to be more than ready for him.

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