Baseball is almost back, and here at Motor City Bengals, we couldn’t be more excited. As always, we’re endeavoring to provide our readers with the best Detroit Tigers content possible. To that end, we’re taking a note from our friends at SB Nation’s Red Sox blog Over the Monster. Although the Tigers probably won’t be winning anything soon, it’s still worth examining each player on their 40-man roster. In this series, we’ll look at individual players through the lens of one big question they’ll face entering the 2020 season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Enjoy!
The Question: Can Victor Reyes maintain improved offensive perfomance and secure a starting role for the foreseeable future?
The Tigers obviously liked what they saw in Reyes when they picked him first overall in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. After starting 100 games with the Tigers during 2018 season, Reyes spent the first half of 2019 being shuttled between Triple-A Toledo and Detroit. It was apparent that he needed more time in the minors before transitioning to the big leagues, but, like all Rule 5 picks, he needed to stay with the club through the entire 2018 season or be sent back to Arizona. The Tigers have seem rather high on him from the beginning, though, and could see their gamble finally pay out in 2020.
As a prospect, Reyes was not billed as a gifted offensive player, mainly due to a relatively long swing and slow bat speed. What seems intriguing, though, are the numbers Reyes managed to put up after sticking in Detroit. After the All Star break, he slashed .313/.340/.446 with 16 doubles. That’s a level of play he hadn’t seen before and it powering him to a 1.6 fWAR finish to the season. That’s a sentiment echoed by wRC+, which graded his year-long offensive performance as exactly average, a mammoth leap from his 62 percent below average performance in 2018.
That isn’t to say that Reyes is a true-talent batting average monster. In 2019, he had a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .399, essentially resulting in more luck with balls put in play falling in for hits or line drives. This rate is an unsustainably high mark – the league generally averages .300 and even Mike Trout has a career .348 BABIP. We can confidently expect this to come down to earth in 2020, meaning all his other rate stats are going to come down as well.
On the other hand, speedy players tend to be able to outperform the league in that particular category, as they can run out bat contact and beat a defender’s throw. Reyes has an above-average minor league career BABIP and has a realistic chance to continue hitting for a better average than we might expect from who hits a gigantic number of ground balls.
Reyes showed little in the way of power and walks last year. Although he hit 10 home runs in 74 games in Toledo, he only hit 3 with Detroit in 69 games. This can be overlooked if Reyes can keep getting on base at a respectable level, but his walk rate is also questionable. He drew free passes at 4.8 percent clip with the big league club, a rate that comes in far below average. If he cannot hit for average power, improving that walk rate would be a vital area of improvement if he intents to establish a long-term starting role for himself. Rarely is a player able to do that, but you never know.
With a number of well rated outfield bats starting to crop up in the system and other players competing for outfield spots in spring training, it is now or never for Reyes to show improvement at the plate and to prove he has a place on the team. 2020 will be the perfect year for him to show everyone what he can do.