Franmil Reyes credits Cubs assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington with jumpstarting his career
When the Cubs claimed Franmil Reyes off waivers Monday, the move seemed obvious on paper: He provides power and the Cubs could use more power.
But the Cubs also felt confident they could get the slugger back on track because they had a couple of secret weapons on the coaching staff.
Reyes was activated ahead of Tuesday night’s game and got the start at DH in the No. 5 spot in the Cubs order.
He called Cubs bench coach Andy Green a father figure and credits assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington with helping to jumpstart his career.
When Reyes made his MLB debut in 2018 with the San Diego Padres, Green was the team’s manager and Washington was the assistant hitting coach. Reyes played 186 games with the Padres before the team traded him to Cleveland.
Reyes first encountered Washington when he was a 19-year-old playing in the Dominican Winter League during the 2015-16 offseason. Reyes had just finished up the season in Class-A ball and he remembers a conversation with Washington that helped him tap into his power.
“I became a home run hitter in my career in the minors because of Johnny Washington,” Reyes said. “I was just a regular guy that likes to hit a lot of line drives and he was like, ‘bro, you’re not gonna get to the big leagues if you don’t put the ball in the air.'”
Washington was a hitting coach in the Dodgers system at that time before joining the Padres Double-A team the following season.
“I started working with him and the next year after that, I put up 16 homers in High-A and from then on, everything changed,” Reyes said.
In 2017, Reyes hit 25 homers and drove in 102 runs as a 21-year-old with the Padres’ Double-A affiliate. The next year, he dominated at Triple-A (16 homers, .324 average, 1.042 OPS in 58 games) and earned a promotion to the majors.
Reyes hit .280 with 16 homers and an .838 OPS in his rookie season and smacked 27 more longballs in 99 games in 2019 before the trade to Cleveland.
He received a lot of good advice from Washington throughout that time but recalls one specific instance that stood out.
“In ’19 in San Diego, I was cooling down a little bit,” Reyes said. “I remember he told me, ‘bro, go to your locker, grab your chain. Bring your swag back. Play how you like to play. I like to see you smiling because when things are not going well for all of us, we’re human and we kinda feel sad.’
“That’s what it was. There’s always gonna be a smile on my face when we talk about Johnny.”
For his part, Washington doesn’t want to take all the credit.
“There’s a lot of guys that have had their hand in on Framil becoming a Major League Baseball player,” Washington said. “It wasn’t just myself. All the credit goes to Franmil.
“He’s done a tremendous job up to this point to have the career he’s had and I’m hoping that we all as a staff can have an influential improvement on his career and help him prolong his career in the major leagues.”
Washington believes when Reyes is right, he’s letting the ball travel and hitting balls up the middle and to the opposite field.
The rapport between Reyes and the pair of Cubs coaches can help make the conversations easy immediately. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound slugger already trusts Washington and Green and the Cubs hope he can hit the ground running.
Reyes also comes to the Cubs with a lot of knowledge about the historic franchise beyond his relationship with the coaching staff. He hails from the same town in the Dominican Republic as Pedro Strop and grew up watching Sammy Sosa.
“One of my favorite things about Sammy was the jump every time he hit a homer,” Reyes said. “That’s something that with most of my homers, I do.”
In his first batting practice at Wrigley Field Tuesday, Reyes routinely sent balls into the left field bleachers and even hit a couple onto Waveland Ave. out of the ballpark.
“The power’s real,” Washington said. “That’s a gift he has. From our standpoint, how do we pull that out daily and become more consistent with that power?”
That’s the question Washington and the Cubs will attempt to answer over the next two months of the season.