The Balanced Approach of High-A Lynchburg’s Mitch Reeves

It is challenging to maintain a balanced perspective when you win the Carolina League Player of the Week Award your first week at the High-A level. Mitch Reeves of the High-A Hillcats received that honor for the week ending June 30. The 6’2” 210 lb. outfielder/first baseman was promoted from Low-A Lake County on June 20 and got off to a hot start as the fast A level.

At the time of the honor, Reeves was batting .375, and had two home runs and nine RBI in his first nine games with the Hillcats.

“Fortunately, I’ve been able to get some good swings on good balls,” said Reeves in an interview for Did The Tribe Win Last Night. “I was messing around with my friends and said it must have been a down week, cause I was kind of surprised when I got it.”

Joking aside, he was happy to be selected for the weekly honor.

Reeves is the second weekly award winner for the Hillcats this season – pitcher Eli Morgan was the first. Morgan was promoted to AA Akron in early May shortly after his weekly honors. Reeves is not likely to advance so soon, having just arrived in Lynchburg. Either way, he takes it all in stride and continues to apply himself as he works to improve his baseball skills and carve out his place in the Indians farm system.

A central Floridian by birth, he grew up in Winter Springs and attended Oviedo High School. Growing up, he played the three primary sports of football, basketball, and baseball. It was in high school that he finally opted to specialize, choosing baseball as his primary sport.

“I narrowed it down to baseball because of the competition at my high school and in the area. You kind of had to pick one [sport],” said Reeves. “I pretty much knew I’d always stay with baseball, it was the one I was most comfortable with.”

From high school, he moved on to Division I baseball at High Point University in North Carolina (former college home of Indians’ all-time saves leader Cody Allen). He played a single season there, getting in only 21 games for the Panthers. He did not perform well, hitting .095 in only 21 trips to the plate in essentially a pinch hitting role.

Reeves transferred the following year to Seminole State junior college near home in Florida. He had a strong season (a .333 batting average with three homers and 18 RBI), helping him earn a spot on the squad at Florida Southern University for the final two years of his college career.

Florida Southern was coached by Lance Niekro, son of longtime major league pitcher Joe Niekro and nephew of Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. Coach Niekro had an extensive professional career, including 195 games at the Major League level with San Francisco. Playing through 2009, he even tried to convert to a pitcher, tossing 14 games for the Gulf Coast Braves in his final season. He brought the wealth of his experience back to his alma mater, taking the reins as head coach in 2011.

Reflecting back on Niekro’s style, Reeves appreciates the preparation that he received at Florida Southern, even if he was not fully aware of it at the time.

“I think it was good, to prepare me for this because he’d seen how the professional game works,” said Reeves. “He has sort of a ‘Big League’ way of coaching. Stern when he needs to be, but easy to play for, since you’re not afraid to fail.”

Failure was not part of Reeves’ game plan in his final two years of college. In back-to-back seasons, he hit .364 and .363 for the Moccasins, bashing 28 home runs and driving in 101 runs in those two season combined. The pinnacle was a trip for the NCAA Division II regionals his senior season. These performances got him noticed by Major League organizations.

He was drafted in the 32nd round of 2017 by Cleveland, spending most of his first professional season in the rookie-level Arizona League, with a three-game stint at Mahoning Valley. His 2018 season began in extended Spring Training, before he was again sent to Rookie-level Mahoning Valley for 60 games. He finished the season at Lake County.

“It was awesome, one of the best days ever. I sweated it out for a while, down to the 32nd round, it was cool,” said Reeves about the baseball draft. “I watched a lot of my friends get taken. Then I got a text from my area scout and he said they’d probably take me with the next pick.”

Now at the 30-game mark in a Hillcats jersey, Reeves continues to be productive at this higher level of competition. Though he has not added to his homer total gathered in his first 10 days with the club, his RBI have increased to 18, and he has 23 walks to complement his .320 batting average, giving him a .451 OBP for his time in the Carolina League.

In his third year as a professional, Reeves is adjusting to the rigors of a full season.

“I try to keep the same approach,” he said. “I try to stay even keel and go about the game the same way. For sure it changes, but I don’t think the biggest change has come yet.”

In this case, Reeves is referring to the higher levels of minor league baseball, where the pitchers are more consistent and have better developed off-speed offerings to complement their fastballs.

Reeves and Hillcats hitting coach Johnny Narron are on the same page about where the Carolina League sits as a developmental level for a hitter.

“This is a crossroads for our players,” said Narron. “They’ve made a lot of progress individually. It’s time for them to move to the next step.”

For Reeves the next step is to finish out the season strong. The Hillcats have 39 games remaining on their schedule through the first two days of September (as of July 19). Reeves will go out every day and put in the work necessary to continue to improve.

“This year is a lot different,” Reeves said. “The way you take care of your body and do what is necessary to stay on the field. Just being smart about your workloads and how you feel that day, you don’t have to be a superhero all the time.”

As Reeves learns the ins-and-outs of playing professional baseball, he is confident in his ability. When the down time comes after the season, he’ll return home to Florida and take some time off, trying to distance himself from the game for a while and recharge. When January comes, he will get prepared for another long, and hopefully successful, season.

Photo: Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats (MiLB.com)

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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