Debate over who should make the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day roster has picked up over the past week. From deciding who should be in the starting rotation to projecting the bullpen to finding the right bench pieces, fans have gone back and forth about which 25 players should head north with the team.
The most recent debate has centered around Rule 5 pick Victor Reyes. With center fielder JaCoby Jones enjoying a strong spring and Reyes struggling, many have wondered if the Tigers should dump Reyes and bring Jones to Detroit. The 25-year-old Jones has more experience, having played at Triple-A and in the majors already, and brings more versatility, with his ability to also play the infield.
I think it’s too early to go that route. For one, it’s easy for them to keep both players in the organization. Jones has a minor league option remaining and can be freely sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Meanwhile, the Tigers would need to offer Reyes back to the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he spent the past three seasons. For a team not expecting to compete in 2018, holding onto both players is the more prudent move, even if it burns Jones’ final option year. If Reyes hasn’t shown some promise in a month or two, the Tigers can correct their mistake and jettison Reyes at that point.
It’s also too early to judge both players on spring training stats alone. Reyes is hitting .200/.250/.233, but in only 32 plate appearances. If he were to collect singles in his next two trips to the plate, his batting line would improve to .250/.294/.281. That still isn’t great, but it shows just how volatile a player’s stats are after a handful of games. A hot week could completely change our entire outlook on Reyes — or Jones, for that matter.
Speaking of Jones, his stat line is much more robust. He is hitting .391/.481/.652 in 27 plate appearances. Four of his nine hits have gone for extra bases, and he has already drawn four walks. However, quality of competition matters in spring training. According to Baseball Reference, Jones has mostly faced pitchers at a Double-A level, similar to the competition he has seen in the minor leagues over the past couple years. He isn’t facing the advanced arms he will see in the majors, so we should take that gaudy 1.134 OPS with an extra grain of salt. Sure, Reyes has faced similar competition and not put up those numbers, but we’ve already identified what a hot or cold week could do to either player’s stat line.
By holding onto Reyes and sending Jones to the minors, the Tigers buy themselves more time to evaluate both players. Reyes might not receive consistent at-bats in the majors, but the Tigers could be a little more aggressive with his playing time in order to further assess his abilities. It’s not like Leonys Martin is their center fielder of the future, after all.
The Tigers could also try to work out a trade with the Diamondbacks for Reyes’ rights. Depending on the asking price, this might be the best option for all parties involved. Detroit would be able to hold onto both Reyes and Jones and bring the more deserving player north, while Reyes won’t have to sink or swim against major league pitching. Jones would get another shot at the majors as well.
But if the Tigers don’t go that route? Hold onto Reyes for now. It’s too early to give up on him.