While playing in the Minor Leagues, Mark Reynolds was known to his coaches and teammates as "Parking Lot."
Given Reynolds' proficiency as a power hitter, it would be natural to assume that this nickname referenced his ability to hit balls over the fence and into the parking lot. This was not the case.
"We used to call him Parking Lot, because he was always sitting down somewhere," said Bill Plummer, who managed Reynolds at Class A Short-Season Yakima in 2004 and Double-A Tennessee in 2006. "He was always very easy-going, just a laid-back guy."
"If he could find a place to sit, then he'd sit," echoed Mark Haley, who managed Reynolds at Class A South Bend in 2005. "One time we put a chair out at shortstop so he could sit down during [batting practice]. He found that humorous and went out there and sat down. He's the kind of guy who can laugh at himself."
But both Plummer and Haley are quick to point out that behind that laid-back exterior was an individual with a determined and even-keeled nature, someone with a strong work ethic and the ability to adjust and adapt to any given situation.
Still, few could have predicted that the 16th-round Draft pick who arrived in Yakima in 2004 would be in the Major Leagues just three years later. Fewer still would have expected a 40-home run, 100-RBI season just two seasons after that. The irony is that "Parking Lot" hasn't stopped moving.
The Diamondbacks drafted Reynolds following his junior year at the University of Virginia, and after signing with the club he was sent to Yakima. There he put up solid, if not spectacular numbers, hitting .274 with 12 homers and 74 RBIs in 234 at-bats.
"You could see his power even then, 12 homers is a lot for short season," said Plummer, a former Major League backstop who is now the Diamondbacks' Minor League catching coordinator. "He had to make some adjustments, because he was a dead fastball hitter, and once he started to see the breaking ball he struggled. A lot of young hitters have to make those types of adjustments. You have to learn to wait, and to go the other way, in order to give yourself the opportunity to not have trouble with the breaking ball."
But the primary issue confronting Reynolds at Yakima was where he should play.
"We started him off at shortstop, and I always thought he'd be a first baseman," said Plummer. "We moved him back and forth a lot, and sometimes had him at third."
This problem continued in 2005 with the South Bend Silver Hawks.
"The role that he played with us that season was more of a utility guy, not a front-line starter," said Haley, who recently concluded his fifth season as South Bend's skipper. "It was his first full season, and trying to play every day becomes a chore in and of itself."
Haley managed to get Reynolds into the lineup more often than not, however, as he finished the season with 19 homers and 76 RBIs over 118 games. He also struck out 107 times in 434 at-bats -- a prodigious amount, but far off the record-setting pace he would establish in the Majors.
"That first full season is always a real learning experience," said Haley. "In August, 90 percent of the guys will be looking at me, like. 'There's still another month?' They don't realize yet how long it really is. But Mark did a great job with that, he never got too up or too down."
Reynolds really came into his own in the Class A Advanced California League the next season, hitting 23 homers and driving in 77 runs in just 76 games with the Lancaster JetHawks. While the Cal League has a well-deserved reputation as a hitter's haven, these numbers were still extraordinary. He soon received a promotion to the Tennessee Smokies, where he was reunited with Plummer.
"At this point, you really could see his power potential. It was the kind of power that we hadn't seen from him before," said Plummer. "After Spring Training the following year, he was supposed to be in Triple-A with me in Tucson. Instead they sent him to Double-A, and he ended up bypassing us by getting the call right to the big leagues. He probably wasn't ready defensively, but they decided to stick him at third and see how he did. He's played very well in the Majors. He strikes out a little bit, but he's got that power."
Reynolds strikes out more than a "little bit," of course, as in 2009 he broke his own record for whiffs in a season with 223.
"I wonder sometimes if he would have been better off had he spent more time in the Minors working on his strike zone discipline," said Haley. "It's put pressure on him, but he's been so productive with his home runs and RBIs that now he has the chance to work on his other tools in the big leagues. It's a nice problem to have."
Minor League career breakdown
2004: The 16th-round pick made his professional debut with Yakima of the Northwest League and hit .274 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs over 64 games.
2005: Reynolds spent the entire season with the Midwest League-champion South Bend Silver Hawks. The 22-year-old appeared in 118 games as a utility player, slugging 19 homers and driving in 76 runs in 434 at-bats.
2006: Put up astronomical numbers with Class A Advanced Lancaster, finishing third in the league in home runs (23) despite playing in just 76 games. Reynolds slugged .670 and got on base at a .422 clip before receiving a callup to Double-A Tennessee. There, he hit eight homers in 30 games.
2007: Played in just 37 games with Double-A Mobile before getting the callup to the Diamondbacks There, he would stay.