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Faces on the Field: Mark Reynolds07/21/2006 8:00 AM ET
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
If you check out the Tennessee Smokies' team store, you'll find a navy blue T-shirt with the team logo, an intertwined T/S, in a Superman insignia. On the back it says, "Don't Mess With The TS."
The shirt could have been designed with the Smokies' newest acquisition, Mark Reynolds, in mind.
No one in baseball right now is more deserving of the "Superman" designation than the Arizona Diamondbacks' super utilityman.
The day he arrived in the Volunteer State from Class A Advanced Lancaster on July 12, he blasted a home run in his first Double-A at-bat. But his arrival was not in time to have his name embroidered on the back of his new uniform.
Still, by the time Reynolds had hit two homers in as many games for Tennessee, you can be sure Smokies' fans knew his name. Lancaster fans already did.
In three-plus months with the California League's JetHawks, the 22-year-old started at five different positions -- first base, second base, shortstop, third base and left field -- as well as at DH.
And rather than letting the uncertainty of where he would be playing on any given day distract him at the plate, he was on a potential Triple Crown pace and ranked among the overall Minor League leaders in home runs and RBIs.
When promoted to Tennessee after his July 10 game, Reynolds boasted a .337 average, 23 homers and 77 RBIs, and led the league in slugging by more than 100 points at .670. Adding in his six games with the Smokies, he ranks second overall in the Minors with 25 homers, is tied for second with 81 RBIs and ranks second with a .666 slugging percentage.
Not bad for a guy who came to camp as a backup utility infielder.
Coming off his first full season at Class A South Bend, where he hit .253 with 19 homers and 76 RBIs in 118 games and played shortstop, third base and a smattering of second, Reynolds was prepared to fill the utility spot again this year.
"It's something that people tell me makes me more valuable to the organization," said Reynolds, the Diamondbacks' 16th-round pick in 2004 out of the University of Virginia. "With different positions, there are different responsibilities and different stuff I have to remember, but it's fun to change it up a little."
This year, the Diamondbacks added some left field to his repertoire, so every day at batting practice Reynolds does some outfield work first to get in his throws, then moves in to wherever he might be playing that night -- if he's in the infield.
"I pretty much just look at the lineup to see which glove to take out with me," he laughed.
Arizona farm director A.J. Hinch would like to see Reynolds maintain that versatility for as long as possible, though he says that if he had to pin him down to one spot, he would probably profile best as a third baseman.
But, Hinch adds, "the more positions you play, the easier it is to find a spot on a big-league team."
In fact, all that seems to be missing from Reynolds' impressive resume this year are the words "California League All-Star."
In what can only be described as a stunning omission, Reynolds somehow was not named to the 22-man squad that represented the 10-team league in its June 27 game against the Carolina League.
Perhaps that versatility worked against him on the initial vote of the league's managers. No one might think to vote for him at shortstop or second base or third base or the outfield, when the initial votes were cast.
But that doesn't explain why someone who was on a Triple Crown pace was not named as a replacement when several players were scratched and replaced. Lancaster had just one player on the team, despite leading the league at the time in average and homers; San Jose had four members, and three other teams had three representatives apiece.
The fact that the game was being played in Salem, Va., just a short drive from Reynolds' hometown of Virginia Beach, made the exclusion harder at first.
"At first, I was really disappointed because I had thought I would make it and get to play in front of a bunch of my family and friends back home," Reynolds said. "So I was bad for a couple of days, but then I thought about it and figured it would be a nice break to recharge my batteries."
Ironically, Reynolds still headed home to Virginia, but instead of playing baseball, he chilled at the beach and played a few rounds of golf.
Hinch was not particularly happy with the omission, either. Not only was Reynolds left off the team, so was Lancaster outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who might be the system's top outfield prospect (and the organization is deep in outfielders) but was battling Reynolds for the Minor League lead in RBIs and was a member of the 2006 Futures Game World Team.
"Not that the guys who were selected weren't deserving, but if you look at the RBI leaders and the average leaders and the home run leaders, those two stood out," Hinch said. "I know guys are overlooked every year, and Mark Reynolds and Carlos Gonzalez aren't the first guys to get overlooked, but to me, when guys are playing that well and demonstrating that kind of dominance in a league, you find a spot for them."
Hinch represented the California League in the second year of the cross-country battle, when he played for Modesto in 1997 and competed in the game held in Durham, then part of the Carolina League.
"I have my own fond memories of playing in that game," he said, "and I want my players to have that feeling of accomplishment and recognition."
While Gonzalez has been considered one of the Diamondbacks' top prospects since signing out of his native Venezuela, what has made Reynolds' season so impressive is the fact that when the year began he didn't really have a job.
What would he have thought if someone had told him on Opening Day that at the Major League All-Star break he'd be among the Minor League leaders in home runs and RBIs?
"I would have said they were crazy," Reynolds said. "I went to Lancaster as a non-everyday guy to fill in for other guys when they needed a day off. Our hitting coach, Damon Mashore, knew I was kind of mad that I wasn't starting, so he pulled me aside and told me that I would get my opportunities and would have to take advantage of them when I did.
"So I took that to heart and prepared myself every day as if I would be playing. And I strung together a couple of good games, and before I knew it I was playing every day. And to me actually it was more of an accomplishment this way."
The power numbers haven't been that big a surprise to the Diamondbacks, who've been especially pleased by how Reynolds has become more of a complete hitter. The reward came in mid-July when he was promoted to Tennessee, just a few hours from his Virginia home.
In his first few games there, he's played primarly third base and left field, and already has seen the difference in the pitching.
"They keep you guessing more than in the California League, where you can pretty much expect when a fastball is coming, and their breaking stuff here is a little sharper," he said, "but overall, baseball is baseball."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.