Proving himself

Late draft pick Reeves determined to succeed

Mahoning Valley starting pitcher Luis Oviedo delivers a pitch Saturday in the Scrappers’ 9-3 victory over the West Virginia Black Bears at Eastwood Field.

NILES — A challenge is nothing new for Mitch Reeves, who bounced around to three different colleges before becoming a 32nd-round draft pick, but his most recent battle is with himself.

Reeves, a first baseman for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, has faced long odds since he left high school. The 23-year-old from Winter Springs, Fla., started off at High Point University in North Carolina. He then went to Seminole State College and finally ended up at Florida Southern College prior to being drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 32nd round of the 2017 MLB Draft.

His selection probably didn’t catch the eye of too many draft gurus, but Reeves is used to proving people wrong. He continued to do that Saturday, belting a two-run homer that set off a five-run inning in the Scrappers’ 9-3 victory over the West Virginia Black Bears at Eastwood Field.

“I kind of feel like my whole career, even through college coming out of a Division II school, it’s always kind of a thing for me to try to prove myself,” Reeves said. “Being a late-round pick, I kind of have a chip on my shoulder, I guess you could say, and I try to prove to myself and everybody else that I deserve to be here.

“Every day I come out and know that I can compete with these guys just like everybody else.”

Mahoning Valley’s Jose Fermin pops up after stealing second base and looks at the empty glove of West Virginia second baseman Melvin Jiminez. Fermin finished 3-for-4 with two stolen bases in the Scrappers’ 9-3 win.

He seems to be well on his way.

Reeves finished 2-for-5 and missed a second homer by about 3 feet. His power seems obvious as there was no doubt about his home run to left field, which soared over the fence by about 20 feet.

“It’s always good to get one like that — you know you got it,” he said. “It always feels good. It gives you confidence going into your next at-bat.”

His underdog mentality might have affected his confidence at one point, but his focus has improved.

Reeves said he can get in his own head at times and speed up an already fast game, but he has made strides in that area. After the game, he talked about how the Black Bears pitcher started him off with a fastball on the inside corner. Once the pitcher fell behind in the count, Reeves said he had an idea that another inside fastball was coming. He was right.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Mahoning Valley cleanup hitter Mitch Reeves checks his swing on a high pitch during the Scrappers’ 9-3 victory over the West Virginia Black Bears on Saturday. Reeves hit a two-run home run to left field, sparking a five-run sixth inning.

“I matured a lot mentally on the baseball field,” he said. “That’s my biggest challenge. If I can slow the game down in my head, then I’ll be good to go at the plate.”

Another area his confidence has grown is in the field.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Reeves is still learning the many nuances of first base, a position he never played before last season. The former outfielder and third baseman spent most of 2017 in Arizona as part of the Cleveland Indians’ Rookie League, where he hit .291 while focusing on a position change.

He joined the Scrappers at the end of the season, playing in three games, all at first base. He could still play the outfield, if needed, but he said his confidence at first base increases every game.

“The speed of the game and paying attention to every pitch,” said Reeves of the biggest challenges at first base. “In the outfield, it’s a lot different. As a first baseman, with men on, you always have a responsibility and something to do at all times.”

His work ethic and attitude have Scrappers manager Jim Pankovits believing in him as well.

Pankovits talked about how Reeves has a good eye at the plate and gives quality at-bats, and he also likes his demeanor on a day-to-day basis. That said, he wants to continue to see consistent power from a corner infielder.

“He’s a guy that seems to be pretty steady — doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low,” Pankovits said. “We’d like to see a little bit more of that, what we saw tonight, getting the head (of the bat) out and driving the ball a little bit more, but all of these guys are still getting their feet wet right now. The best is yet to come.”

Reeves’ home run tied Saturday’s game at 3, and MV (2-0) then scored three more runs during a two-out rally. Elvis Perez hit a run-scoring triple down the right-field line, and Jason Rodriguez followed with a RBI single to center. After a walk, Jose Fermin singled in another run to finish the rally and put the Scrappers up, 6-3.

“Reeves’ home run was pretty huge for us, to give us a spark and tie the game,” Pankovits said. “It gave us a feeling that we could come back again.”

A comeback mentality comes naturally to Reeves.