Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Mets may have found their own Jeter in Reyes

Enquirer news services

NEW YORK - The best baseball team in New York is obviously in the Bronx. But the most exciting player in town might be doing his work in Queens.

In only nine weeks as a major leaguer, 20-year-old Jose Reyes has established himself as the cornerstone player the Mets can rebuild their franchise around. Their Derek Jeter, if you will.

"It's terrible to be going through what we're going through but when I look at that kid I see a lot of hope for the future," left-hander Tom Glavine said. "You have to start someplace and I start with him."

Reyes is hitting .294 through 51 games with 10 stolen bases and 14 extra-base hits. But beyond statistics, he has impressed his teammates and others around baseball with his poise and skills.

"You hear a lot about certain kids coming up and he was one of those guys," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "Sometimes they pan out and a lot of times they don't. But Reyes is the real deal. We had trouble getting him out."

Reyes was hitting .207 three weeks after his promotion, leading some to wonder if he had been rushed and needed more seasoning in the minors.

"I always start slow every place I go in baseball," Reyes said. "But I learn."

Reyes has hit safely in 20 of the last 22 games. His 12 multi-hit games since the All-Star game are the most in the National League and he goes into tonight's game against the San Francisco Giants riding an 11-game hit streak.

Opposing teams have pitched Reyes to the outer edge of the plate - regardless of whether he's batting right-handed or left-handed - in the hope that he will get himself out. Reyes has always struck out more than he has walked and came to the majors with the reputation of sometimes being too aggressive at the plate.

"It was that way in the minors, too," Reyes said. "Nobody thinks I am patient or that I will hit the ball the other way. It was hard for me to learn because I go to home plate wanting to swing the bat."

In his last 75 at-bats, nearly half of Reyes' hits have been to the opposite field. And after drawing one walk in his first 26 games, he had six in the next 25. That's not nearly enough for a hitter the Mets envision at the top of their lineup for the next decade. But Reyes is making progress.

"He has a much better idea of what he can and can't do now," Mets hitting coach Denny Walling said. "He's swinging at better pitches and we're seeing his physical tools come out now. It's been fun to see his progress."

The Mets can be difficult to watch but Reyes commands notice. At least three times, he has turned apparent singles into doubles because of his speed and he routinely makes throws from the hole at shortstop that cause his most jaded teammates to react.

"I love watching him throw," right-hander Steve Trachsel said. "Has he made a bad throw yet? Maybe once. His arm is incredible."

The Mets are honing Reyes' skills in stages. After he committed a series of errors, manager Art Howe took him aside to tutor him on his footwork. Reyes has made only two errors in the last 25 games.

"He gets a lot of support," Howe said. "We're trying not to overwhelm him. If we correct him, it's positive and we explain why. But we haven't had to do too much of that."

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