The Giants lost their first-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft after signing Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million contract on Dec. 9, 2015. Exactly six months later, the Giants’ front office saw a first-round talent slip to Round 2.
San Francisco selected outfielder Bryan Reynolds No. 59 overall after starring for three years at college baseball powerhouse, Vanderbilt University. How Reynolds became the Giants’ top pick last year is a story in itself.
“In high school I didn’t get recruited really,” Reynolds said to NBC Sports Bay Area. “I didn’t talk to any draft people. I think I filled out one questionnaire.”
The talent was clearly there. As a prep at Brentwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn., Reynolds was ranked as the state’s 35th best prospect in the high school class of 2013 by recruiting website Perfect Game. But, an injury held him back.
Reynolds underwent labrum surgery on his right throwing shoulder his senior year and was still rehabbing as the season began. The first time scouts saw him that year, the injury came as a surprise.
“I had three scouts come to the first scrimmage we had and they watched me hit in the cage and then watched me throw, and that kind of threw them off,” Reynolds remembers. “I was still rehabbing so I was throwing from seventy feet just lobbing it. No one came back after that for the rest of the year.”
That turned out to be a mistake for those scouts. Reynolds went on to win District Player of the Year and was named First Team All-State. Still, he had only two scholarship offers in high school — Lipscomb and Vanderbilt. Growing up 20 minutes from Vanderbilt, Reynolds watched future stars like David Price and Sonny Gray take the field, hoping to one day star for the school too.
“Vandy was my dream baseball school for sure,” Reynolds said.
There under acclaimed head coach Tim Corbin, Reynolds grew on and off the field. From their first interactions, it was clear Corbin cared about more than just his players’ stats despite churning out one of the best teams in the nation every year.
“First time you meet him he’s not talking all about baseball, he’s really getting to know you as a person. We have our classroom sessions before each practice and we really harp on character and not just being the best baseball player. Instead, be the best person you can and everything will follow,” Reynolds said.
Prior to every practice, players file into a classroom right above the Vanderbilt locker room. Each player has their own seat and own binder for notes. Coach Corbin goes to the front of the room and begins jotting down the focus of that day’s session on a white board. Every year, Corbin even brings in mental coaches and sports psychologists.
In that classroom, Reynolds’ growth off the field pushed him to a whole new level on it.
“I went in there my freshman fall and had a real bad fall and then we brought in (famous sports psychologist) Ken Ravizza and he talked to us for three nights, a couple hours each night. He just talked about breathing and mindset and how you can look at things differently and that really helped me a lot.
“From there I’ve been a pretty big believer. You got to be positive, you got to be relaxed.”
After adding mental skills to his game, Reynolds led Vanderbilt in batting average (.338) and slugging percentage (.480) as a freshman and the team went on to win the national championship. One series into his Vanderbilt career, Reynolds had his first taste of the MLB Draft process.
“We were playing Long Beach and I had an adviser come up to me and introduced himself and I didn’t even know what that was. I didn’t know that was a thing,” Reynolds said. He earned SEC Freshman of the Week that opening series, going 6-for-10 with two doubles and four RBI.
Reynolds was named First Team Freshman All-American in 2014 and Vanderbilt finished second in the nation after falling in the College World Series his sophomore year. Going into his junior year, Reynolds went from undrafted in high school to a name to know for the 2016 draft. He didn’t disappoint, earning Third Team All-American honors.
The MLB Draft is different than any other. Instead of training for months and preparing yourself for a scouting combine event like in the NBA and NFL, college teams are in the midst of their postseason run. Naturally, thoughts of the draft creep in, but the field is the best way to keep your head on straight.
“Pretty much once you step on the field that thought goes away. Game’s over and you’re like, ‘Oh crap, draft’s in a week!’ When you’re playing it’s easy to let it slip to the back of your mind,” Reynolds said.
Now in his first full minor league season, Reynolds has been named to the 2017 California League All-Star Game. He owns a .298 batting average, .343 on-base percentage and .421 slugging percentage in 55 games this season for the San Jose Giants in Advanced Single-A. Reynolds also leads the league with five triples and just saw a 17-game hitting streak come to an end on June 10.
At the plate, his mindset is about as straight to the point as you can get and one that every hitter wishes he could adopt — hit it where they’re not.
“I had a stretch where I was hitting a lot of balls right to people and then I tried to change my approach a little bit to try to drop it where nobody is standing and that really helped out, so I’m just gonna try continue to do that,” Reynolds said.
Though Reynolds’ mental approach to hitting is all about simplicity, his swing is much different. No, he doesn’t do anything wild at the plate, but it surely isn’t conventional. If you watch him for a series, you might see multiple different looking swings at the plate as opposed to a batter repeating the same swing with the same mechanics every single time.
There is a method to his highly successful baseball madness.
“I kind of like to keep my body guessing because it makes me feel more athletic,” the switch-hitting Reynolds explains. “I feel like if I keep doing it one way, you’re almost just going through the motions. For instance, one time I hit a ball last year and I didn’t remember if I toe tapped or leg kicked, I had to ask somebody.”
His swing can be a mystery every at-bat, but the 22-year-old preaches consistency to keep rising in the Giants’ ranks. “Just consistency in everything. Consistent approach, consistent contact, consistent attitude, just stay consistent all throughout the game.” Consistency — a word the Giants would love to associate with their current revolving door in the outfield, and so far, Reynolds looks like a future key to making that happen.