Leading up to the 2017 Rule 5 draft, many fans (myself included) were hoping the Detroit Tigers would take one of several pitchers left unprotected by their former teams. Hard-throwing reliever Nick Burdi was the flavor du jour, especially as his return from Tommy John could allow teams to game the Rule 5 system in order to add him into the fold long-term. Instead, the Tigers used the first pick to draft outfielder Victor Reyes from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While fans were quick to bemoan the selection, Reyes might actually have better odds of sticking on the Tigers’ roster than a pitcher (Burdi possible excepted). The Tigers’ bullpen is probably going to be a mess again this year. They will almost certainly use upwards of 25 pitchers, and locking one player into one of seven or eight spots can severely hamper their flexibility. Meanwhile, Reyes has the inside track for a fourth outfield role this spring.
The Atlanta Braves signed Reyes out of Venezuela as an amateur free agent. He put up a strong batting average and on-base percentage in his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League back in 2012. He continued to hit well in his stateside debut the next season, batting .342 in 49 games across two levels. He hit a bit of a wall in 2014, when he produced a .607 OPS in 89 games for Atlanta’s Single-A affiliate.
Though that season wasn’t the end of the world for Reyes — life isn’t easy for a 19-year-old in the Sally League — the Braves traded him to Arizona in exchange for a competitive balance draft pick. He bounced back in a second season at the Single-A level, hitting .311 with 17 doubles. He added another 11 doubles and 12 triples with High-A Visalia in 2016, and set a new career-high with six home runs. His power diminished somewhat in the jump to Double-A, but he still hit .292 with a slew of doubles in 126 games.
If it wasn’t clear from his minor league history, Reyes possesses a solid hit tool with good bat-to-ball skills. MLB Pipeline described his mechanics as “a simple, line-drive swing,” which helps explain all those doubles he has accumulated. He has done a good job of making contact as well, and has only struck out 16.3 percent of the time across all minor league levels. While he also doesn’t walk much, he finds the barrel often enough to support a high batting average.
Reyes’ best tool might be his speed. He’s not a burner by any means, but possesses above-average speed that plays well both on the bases and in the outfield. His baserunning instincts have seemingly helped his speed play up as well; he has stolen 50 bases over the past two years, including 18 at Double-A and 12 more in the Arizona Fall League last season. Were he to receive a starter’s playing time in the majors, he’d be a safe bet for double-digit steals.
Defensively, Reyes is a bit of a “tweener.” While this is often cited as a weakness, he has enough range and arm strength to capably play all three outfield positions. He isn’t quite rangy enough to provide plus defense in center, but should be an above-average corner outfielder. MLB Pipeline only gives his arm an average grade, but he seems like a great fit for either right or left field in Comerica Park’s spacious outfield. It’s a classic fourth outfielder profile.
Reyes’ weakest tool by far is his power. His swing isn’t geared toward hitting the ball in the air, and he doesn’t get much loft even when he does barrel a ball. He might still have some physical development left in his lanky 6’3 frame, but predicting even double-digit home runs would be a stretch. Any power development that comes in the next few years would likely be in the way of gap power, resulting in more doubles and triples. While this isn’t a bad thing in a vacuum, he doesn’t hit for enough power to warrant full-time duty in traditionally offense-heavy positions.
Reyes’ other deficiencies also come at the plate. He has an aggressive approach, which results in few walks and a relatively low on-base percentage. He has maintained respectable OBPs thanks to his high batting average, but would need to hit close to .300 at the big league level for the on-base percentage to play in an everyday lineup.
Reyes also has displayed fairly significant platoon splits in the minors, hitting much better against righties than lefties. While he is currently a switch hitter, some wonder if he is better served just batting left-handed all the time. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen called Reyes’ right-handed swing “totally unusable,” and the numbers bear that out as well. He put up a .577 OPS against southpaws in 2015, then a .588 OPS against them this season after a fairly even year in 2016.
Projected team: Detroit Tigers
As a Rule 5 pick, Reyes has to stay on the Tigers’ 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the Diamondbacks. His chances of sticking are probably actually better as a fourth outfielder, especially with how fungible Detroit’s bullpen should be this season. His contact-oriented approach and well-rounded game make for a high floor (and a good fourth outfielder), but it will take some serious development in his power and/or defensive acumen for him to warrant more consistent playing time down the road.