Major League Baseball‘s Rule 5 Draft took place Thursday, signaling the end of the Winter Meetings in Orlando and, more importantly, providing at least a couple opportunities for somewhat overlooked minor leaguers to get a shot to stick in the big leagues with a new organization. The Detroit Tigers had the first pick in that Rule 5 Draft today, and with it selected Arizona Diamondbacks Double-A outfielder Victor Reyes. (See every Rule 5 Draft pick here.)
Victor Reyes, a 23-year-old from Venezuela who was originally part of the Atlanta Braves‘ system before heading over to the Diamondbacks in the Trevor Cahill deal in April of 2015, spent the summer of 2017 with Double-A Jackson in the Southern League. There, the lanky outfielder played in 126 games and slashed .292/.332/.399/.731 in 516 plate appearances, with 29 doubles, four home runs, 18 stolen bases, 27 walks, and 80 strikeouts. After the season, Reyes played in the Arizona Fall League as a member of the Salt River Rafters, appearing in 20 games and slashing .316/.333/.405/.738 in 83 plate appearances across October and November.
Tall, long, and lean—listed at 6’3″ and 170 lbs., Reyes feels taller and thinner—in stature, power production has been a problem for the outfielder despite possessing the bat speed and physical projection that would suggest he could become a productive corner outfielder with pop. He makes for a fascinating Rule 5 Draft choice who is going to have to really fight for a spot in Detroit come spring training, and I’ll be very interested to see if he can really stick on a 25-man roster out of the gate in 2018, let alone for the whole season. Until that comes about, though, here are a few thoughts about the pick.
What do the Detroit Tigers have in Victor Reyes?
There’s quite a bit to like about Victor Reyes, led off by the massive physical projection in his long, lean frame. He’s got the ability to produce some serious leverage at the plate even now thin as a rail, and there’s no question the Detroit Tigers like what they see when imagining him in a few years as he fills out. In time, that should translate to more significant power than what he’s thus far shown in six minor league seasons. Combining that with his swing mechanics (above average bat speed with rare Carlos Gonzalez-esque ability to drop the bat head down and in on fastballs) would probably push me to give him 50-FV power in a scouting report (he’s at about 30-grade current power based on track record). That’s a big jump, and it’ll take quite a bit of work to realize that pop—Tigers fans ought not expect much power in 2018 if he makes the team—but the potential is there with long levers, above-average bat speed, some feel for manipulation, and that easy barrel drop to produce lift in the ultimate lefty sweet spot down and on the inner half. A lot of outlets are down on Reyes’ power (understandably so, for he has 12 home runs in 561 career minor league games), but he’s young and lean enough to grow into pop, and he has the makings of contact skills that’ll mature into really manipulating the barrel for lift with a bit more experience.
As for his hit tool, Reyes has above-average hand-eye coordination with exceptional barrel skills, and he’s able to consistently put the ball into play across all fields. There are significant problems here, though, and even though he doesn’t strike out much, he’s overaggressive and tends to favor an inside-out approach that produces far too much weak, early-count ground ball contact, especially from the right side of the plate. (To be blunt, I’m surprised Victor Reyes is still batting from the right side at all at this point in his career; he produces too much weak contact there and looks a hundred times better from the left side, where he’d be best-served spending every at-bat regardless of matchups.) He’ll continue to be a decent situational hitter with runners on as he grows, but until Reyes decides to really sell out and do damage with every swing, he is going to spend too much time out on his front foot trying to adjust for weak contact and never quite filling a true corner outfielder job description.
Victor Reyes has above-average raw speed, too, with some feel for executing in game situations. He has yet to impress me tracking down balls in the outfield (more on his defense in a minute), but he’ll stride out of the box quickly with his long, lanky limbs, and he’s not afraid to use speed both at the plate (bunting for base hits) and on the bases with a decent track record there. Speed will help him stick with the Detroit Tigers, as it’d be relatively easy to hide Reyes on the bench and use him as a pinch runner or defensive replacement from time to time. I captured a few of his home to first times at the AFL last month, including 4.14 and 4.19 from the left side, and 4.22 and 4.26 from the right side, so I’d comfortably grade him as a 55/60 runner.
Defensively, I’m not nearly as high on Reyes as most of the reports and analysis I read on Thursday. I wonder how many people realized Reyes is fast and concluded that means he’s a center field option, because… it doesn’t always work that way. He’s got an average arm (you could make a case for slightly above average), but he’s very raw defensively and struggled in extensive looks for me both in 2016 (Visalia) and last month at the AFL. He gets bad jumps and routinely misreads balls in the air from all spots. He struggles even now to do simple things like shade the sun and position himself off it during day games, and he lacks the quick read, first-step aggressiveness (especially coming in) that you need from a bona fide center fielder. As a true utility guy moving across all three spots in short spurts, Victor Reyes could play a bit of center field here and there and survive well enough as a backup who can occasionally spell others. But if the Tigers selected him with the expectation that he’s advanced enough right now to play center field a couple times each week, I think they’re going to be a little disappointed. The paradox, of course, is that Reyes needs to be a good center fielder considering he hasn’t shown the power to project into a corner role.
Will Victor Reyes stick with the Detroit Tigers?
This will depend as much on the other men fighting for that 25th spot on the roster as it will on Reyes’ tools, or on how well he plays this spring, and that’s too difficult to predict with any certainty. But if you take all the outfielder’s good and bad traits together, and weigh them with what the Detroit Tigers are trying to do in 2018, you should really like their addition of Victor Reyes this week. There’s enough intrigue in the physical upside that it’s plainly worth giving him a shot, even if he won’t actualize some of his tools quite yet. He’s still young with a wide window ahead if things do start to fall into place, and yet he’s got a full (and fairly successful!) Double-A season already under his belt along with a decent AFL campaign, suggesting he’ll be (slightly) less overwhelmed by big league pitching next year. Defensive issues acknowledged, he is still versatile enough in the outfield to survive, and good contact skills at the plate should keep his head above water for his Rule 5 season. Being on an American League roster will help, too, as the Detroit Tigers can hide him for days on end if slumping, as is the case with so many Rule 5 Draft guys who make it through the full year. (Don’t forget: Jose Bautista was a Rule 5 guy, and an unsuccessful one at that.)
The player development part of me wishes the Arizona Diamondbacks had protected Reyes and sent him to Triple-A Reno in 2018, because he’s still got a lot of growth ahead and there is a real chance that a big league detour will interrupt it at a bad time. That’s the risk of Rule 5 guys, though, and the Tigers’ front office clearly thought the potential reward here was too great to ignore. Ultimately, whether or not Victor Reyes sticks for the duration of the year will depend on his ability to execute this spring, as well as how he matches up against others fighting for a bench outfield gig, but there is ample upside and physical projection to make it a worthwhile gamble. If I were in the Tigers’ front office, I’d give Victor Reyes every single opportunity to prove himself worthy of squeezing into that 25th spot on the active roster come Opening Day. If things go right, the Detroit Tigers may have just found themselves the beginnings of a future fourth outfielder who could—with more development at the right time—eventually push into an everyday role, too. Not a bad mid-December chance to take.
Victor Reyes, OF, Detroit Tigers — 2016 & 2017 game video
This wouldn’t be right without slapping a few Victor Reyes videos up to give you a sense of some of the things I mentioned with his offensive approach (and to see his exceptionally lean body type in action). This first video contains more than 20 of his plate appearances at the Arizona Fall League the last two months, where he represented the Diamondbacks as a member of the Salt River Rafters:
And this second video is our long look at Victor Reyes from the 2016 season, when he was a member of the Visalia Rawhide — the Diamondbacks’ High-A affiliate in the California League:
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More on Victor Reyes and other Detroit Tigers prospects: