Detroit Tigers: Is Victor Reyes worth the wait?

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 13: Victor Reyes #22 of the Detroit Tigers hits a eighth inning RBI single while playing the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park on June 13, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - JUNE 13: Victor Reyes #22 of the Detroit Tigers hits a eighth inning RBI single while playing the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park on June 13, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Tigers have steadfastly held on to Rule 5 Draft pick Victor Reyes. Is his potential worth keeping other guys down?

The Detroit Tigers have a handful of outfield prospects who are tearing the cover off the ball at Triple-A Toledo. Any one of them look capable of stepping onto the field at Comerica Park and contributing to the Tigers offense. So why aren’t they?

Well, the Tigers have committed a roster spot to speedy outfielder Victor Reyes, the first overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft. If they wanted to send him down, they’d have to first offer him back to the Diamondbacks. The team surely doesn’t want to risk losing Reyes after investing so much time into him already, so he looks like a sure bet to hold down a roster spot all season.

But is that the right decision?

Reyes in 2018

It’s no secret that Reyes has been pretty bad with the Detroit Tigers this season. He had one great game back on May 31, a 3-for-4 performance where he was a home run short of the cycle. However, his season line is a lowly .220/.220/.320 with four stolen bases and a 38 wRC+. He has struck out 13 times in just 50 at-bats, with no walks.

Seeing his 26% strikeout rate in the big leagues is not surprising, as adjusting from Double-A to big league pitching is a pretty huge jump. The 0.0% walk rate in the big leagues is more of a concern.

Reyes’ very sporadic playing time is likely a factor here. He only draws about 2-3 at-bats per week, so it’s understandable that he’s pressing for a hit and less likely to draw a walk. Additionally, pitchers have shown no fear when pitching to Reyes. He has seen a first pitch strike an astonishing 84% of the time, as pitchers are coming right after him.

That is reflected in his abnormally high 63.9% swing rate. Most hitters swing at just under 50% of the pitches they see, whereas Reyes is swinging nearly 2/3 of the time. He is also chasing way, way too many bad pitches. His o-swing rate is 58.4%. That means that he is swinging at nearly 60% of pitches that are out of the strike zone.

While his performance has not been good, it’s not entirely unexpected. Rule 5 draftees are typically players who have very limited exposure to the upper minors, so they are not often ready for the big leagues. Teams usually draft them for their future potential, knowing that they likely won’t contribute much in their first season.

The question here is if Reyes’ future potential worth keeping him on the roster, limiting big league opportunities for fellow outfielders Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber.

Reyes’ Potential

Reyes played one full season at Double-A in 2017 with the Diamondbacks. He hit .292/.332/.399 with 18 stolen bases. He posted a stellar 15.5% strikeout rate, but a low 5.2% walk rate. That likely indicates that even when Reyes does adjust to big league pitching, he will never be a high OBP  hitter. For a player with limited power who relies on his speed, a lack of plate discipline is not good.

Of course, Reyes could still tap into some power. He is six-foot-three and most prospect evaluations believe there is some yet untapped power potential for the switch-hitter.

Still, a speedy outfielder doesn’t do you much good if he can’t get on base. Perhaps Reyes can contribute on the defensive side? So far in 2018, Reyes has played 94 innings in left field and 15 innings in right. Neither of those are a very big sample size, but that’s what we have to work with.

Reyes has posted a stellar 6.0 UZR/150 in left field. Unfortunately, that is bogged down by an astonishingly bad -46.4 UZR/150 in right field. Again, his sample in right field is tiny, so this data is misleading. Still, the fact that the Tigers have yet to even try Reyes in center field is telling.

His prospect report gave him a 55-grade in fielding and a 50-grade arm. That’s a good sign, but his defense is still a work in progress. If he can develop into an above average center fielder (which is a stretch) that would  give him a path to a starting role in the MLB.

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After this year, Reyes will likely start the 2019 season at Double-A or Triple-A. It’s become quite clear that he is not ready for the major leagues, hardly a surprise as most Rule 5 draftees aren’t. While it is tough to see him take up a roster spot that could go to Stewart or Gerber, both of whom are further along in their development, it is probably worth it for the Detroit Tigers to hold onto Reyes.

At best, he finds his power stroke and develops into a starting center fielder. At worst, he is a speedy corner outfield option; a la Quintin Berry. In a rebuilding year, it’s worth gambling on the former.