Cubs draft Luke ReynoldsBy JAMES PHILLIPS,
A former Forest Bearcat looks to earn a spot on the Chicago Cubs baseball team and take the field at Wrigley.
The Cubs drafted the former Forest standout and University of Southern Mississippi slugger, Luke Reynolds, in the 10th round of the 2018 Major League Draft. Being drafted by any major league team is the most exciting moment in every young players career, but being drafted by one of Major League Baseball’s most historic teams is an absolute dream come true. The Cubs had shown legitimate interest in Reynolds prior to the 2018 baseball season, and after he had a spectacular season for the Golden Eagles he helped make the choice to draft him an easy one for the organization.
All the dust on the baseball diamond has settled from the 2018 season and Reynolds had one the best seasons any USM hitter has ever had, but when he started his college career he never expected to be playing his home games at “The Pete” in Hattiesburg. He is tremendously blessed with natural athletic ability, superior baseball talent and very high baseball-IQ, but it is his mental toughness and unwavering faith in God’s plan that allowed him to persevere through a highly successful but trying college career.
After playing for three different schools in five years and being forced to sit-out of collegiate action for two full seasons, Reynolds came back with a vengeance in 2018. His on-field play earned him an eye-opening list of accolades and honors that include; 2018 Conference-USA Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, being honored as a 2018 All-American by multiple sources, 2018 C-Spire Ferriss Trophy finalist (honors the top college baseball player in Mississippi) and being drafted by one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball history. While this past season was full of non-stop highlights getting to the 2018 season required suffering through two long and agonizing years sitting and watching his teammates from the dugout. And while it was a long two years Reynolds says, “everything happens for a reason.”
After finishing his baseball career at Forest High School, a prep career which earned him numerous awards, honors and multiple all-state selections in more than one sport, Reynolds first stop at the college level was at Hinds Community College. At Hinds he was named the 2014 team MVP and was a hitting force on the team that narrowly lost the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship game in extra innings. After his stand-out freshman year, he fulfilled his childhood dream by accepting a scholarship to play for perennial baseball powerhouse Mississippi State University.
Playing for the Bulldogs had been a dream of Reynolds since the days he played games in the yard and envisioned his backyard as the storied Dudy Noble Field on MSU’s campus. “From the time I was little all I ever wanted to do was play for Mississippi State,” he says.
During the 2015 season with the Bulldogs, Reynolds did see significant playing time, but only started 20 games. He finished that year with a batting average of .305, which was the third highest on the team, and hit .370 against Southeastern Conference opponents while finishing the year on a 10-game SEC hitting streak.
After his solid first year production with the Bulldogs, many believed that Reynolds had solidified his place on the team and was set to have a very successful future in Starkville. The predictions that Reynolds was going to enjoy great success at the Division-I baseball level were spot on, as his on-field play has proven, but it was just not meant to be for him to enjoy his greatest success in maroon-and-white.
Just days prior to the 2016 season he, as well as many others, were stunned when the MSU coaching staff informed him of their intentions to red-shirt him for the upcoming baseball season. Reynolds, while still reeling from what had transpired, came to the realization that he was going to have to leave the school he grew up loving to get the opportunity to play.
At that point in time, he decided to transfer from his dream school to get a fresh start with a new coaching staff, and the opportunity for more playing time.
He transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, and while, unbeknownst to him, it would be over two years before he would be able to take the field for the Golden Eagles. And it was the best decision he could have ever made. Looking back on his decision now Reynolds believes he was always supposed to end-up in Hattiesburg. “Everything happens for a reason and I feel like I made the right decision for sure,” he says.
The NCAA requires athletes that transfer between Division-I schools to sit out one full season before playing for their new school. Reynolds fully believed that he had received a full release from Mississippi State and after sitting out the 2016 season he would be able to resume play in 2017. “I thought I had the waiver set and was ready to go and I would only have to sit out one year,” he says. But when all was said and done over-reaching NCAA regulations forced Reynolds to sit out a second year before he could even take the field as a Golden Eagle.
He has never doubted that he made the right decision, but he had no idea how long the next two years would be. His strong faith in God, his motivation and laser-sharp focus allowed him to stay strong during the grueling wait to get back on the field. “God is great because that was a long two years,” Reynolds says.
For many players, sitting out two full seasons could have had a detrimental impact on their career, but Luke Reynolds is far better than just any player. While the two years he was forced to sit out was excruciatingly long, Reynolds believes that it was somewhat of a blessing in disguise. “Sitting out those two years was tough, but it really helped me with the mental side of the game,” he explains “being able to slow the game down and understand what a pitcher is trying to do has really helped me at the plate.”
When the 2018 season finally arrived, he got the long-awaited chance to take the field with his Golden Eagles teammates, and that’s when he unleashed his hitting abilities like a man possessed and making up for lost time. He started the season on-fire and he never slowed down or looked back.
In an ironic twist of fate USM’s first opponent of the 2018 season, the first team to experience Reynold’s ferocity on the field, was his favorite childhood team, the Mississippi State Bulldogs. During the three-game series in Hattiesburg he showed fans, teammates and former teammates an unbelievable display of hitting that he would continue throughout the 2018 season.
In the opening series against the Bulldogs, Reynolds went six-for-10 at the plate, scored six runs, drove in five RBIs, hit two doubles, a homerun and even stole a base for good measure. His outstanding play against his former team earned him Conference-USA Hitter of the Week, a honor he would receive two times during the season, and truly felt like a special weekend that was long overdue.
From that point forward Reynolds never slowed down. He went on to destroy the baseball all season long and finished up with an amazing stat-line that includes: .389 AVG, 15 home runs, 61 RBIs, 65 walks, .699 SLG percentage, 20 doubles and 70 runs scored. His outstanding play earned him first-team All-American honors by Collegiate Baseball and third-team All-American honors by Baseball America.
After reviewing those numbers, it is easy to understand why the Chicago Cubs drafted Reynolds to be part of their organization. It was not just his hitting production that got the major league scouts attention. When reading the scouting reports, one will find it mentioned several times that he has a “very high” baseball IQ and that he is a “mature” player coming out of the college. All of those attributes were clearly evident in Reynolds during the last three years, and it’s his ability to deal with adversity and come back with an undeterred focus that helped him stand-out.
While growing-up Reynolds would envision his backyard as Dudy Noble Field as they played countless spur-of-the-moment baseball games. He made those childhood dreams came to fruition, and even though the real-life happenings may not have mimicked his dream, he was able to take all of the challenges in stride and use them to his advantage. Through his faith in God and his faith in his abilities, he can now envision himself in similar dreams of playing at Wrigley Field. Reynolds says, “It would be so unbelievable to play at Wrigley and I am going to do my best to get there.”
Through his excellence on-and-off the field, he has earned the opportunity to chase his biggest dream, and when the Cubs drafted him on June 5 the next chapter of this story began. He will be heading to Mesa, Arizona in the coming days to start the climb that could lead him to the major league level. The question is: how does this baseball story end? The answer is up to Reynolds, but no one should bet against him when he has a baseball bat in his hands.