He blends in quietly in the Detroit Tigers clubhouse. Most rookies try to be seen and not heard, and Victor Reyes is no different. Although the 2018 Tigers are a young bunch, Reyes knows he should probably still be in the minor leagues. The Rule 5 draft, however, has given Reyes an opportunity that many never receive. It’s a chance to play in the big leagues, ready or not.
The Rule 5 draft gives players stuck in an organization a chance to find playing time elsewhere. The catch, however, is that a club that selects a player from another organization in the draft must keep him at the major league level for the entire season, or offer the player back to his original club. The Tigers saw enough potential in Reyes during spring training to allocate a roster spot for him instead of returning him to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While Reyes looked overmatched in April, May, and June, the 23-year-old from Venezuela has found his footing the last two months. Perhaps the biggest indicator of his progress was a ninth-inning at-bat in Minneapolis on the Tigers recent road trip. Reyes was called on to pinch-hit, and he delivered a 13-pitch at-bat in which he fouled off eight pitches, before eventually drawing a walk to keep the inning going. It may have been the best at-bat turned in by any Tiger this season. Two nights later, Reyes delivered a leadoff pinch-hit single in the ninth inning.
The biggest difference in Reyes these days seems to be a feeling that he now understands that he belongs. So, in what area does his manager Ron Gardenhire think he’s made the biggest strides since spring training? “Confidence, and the way he handles himself now, ” Gardenhire said. “He’s not on pins and needles anymore. We’re getting him in plenty of games, and he is feeling more comfortable.”
It appears the staff is getting more comfortable with Reyes as well. So much so, that he has been used as a pinch-hitter twice in the last week late in the game.
“I think he has good at-bats and is giving himself a chance,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a bright spot for me, a very talented kid.”
The numbers seem to agree. Reyes’ bat has perked up in the month of August, by far his best month of the year. He has shortened his swing and has morphed from an automatic out into someone you can’t sleep on in the ninth spot in the line-up.
But room for improvement remains, specifically on the defensive end. Reyes has played all three outfield positions for the Tigers. Lately, with JaCoby Jones on the disabled list, Reyes has played a lot of center field. Like everyone else playing that position, he has been taught to catch every ball. But, the nuance of the position demands that a player balance being the captain of the outfield and backing off when a teammate has room to make a catch. It has been an area of his development that still needs some seasoning.
“You don’t have to run directly at someone like a free safety,” Gardenhire said. “He just has to slow down because he gets a little out of control in those situations where another guy is coming and calling for the ball.”
There is also a question about his power development. Reyes has 37 hits this season and 32 of them are singles. At 6’5″, Reyes looks the part. His frame leads many to believe he will be a 15-20 homer guy. In the minor leagues, Reyes hit 12 homers in the California League in 2016, and that remains his season high at any level. He also possesses speed that could make him a double-digit stolen base guy in the major leagues. Reyes has eight steals this year and has swiped as many as 20 in a single season in the minors. The bottom line is that Reyes has the potential to be a nice blend of power and speed, a trait that is becoming more and more evident among the good young players in the major leagues.
Through it all, this season has been a learning experience for Reyes. The critical eye can argue that his development may have been stunted by not playing at a level more suited for his ability at this point in his career. That was not possible with the guidelines of the Rule 5 draft. The Tigers were forced to keep him at the major league level if they want him to remain in the system. But, you can also argue that the experience he has gained at the major league level this year has been far more valuable than what he could have experienced in the bushes.
In six minor league seasons, Reyes averaged about 340 at-bats a year. This season he is on pace for only 200 at-bats. While he is missing out on the experience the additional at-bats would provide, learning what it takes to compete at the major league level will serve him just as well in the future.
Reyes is likely to return to the minor leagues next year to resume his development, but in the meantime, the Tigers have another piece in the organization that projects to be a solid major league contributor. For a team in rebuilding mode, stockpiling talent is the quickest way to once again return to contender status. The organization is flush with good young pitching talent, and Reyes provides another position player to keep an eye on.