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Victor Reyes is making the most of his recent opportunity

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An injury to Leonys Martín left a big hole, but Victor Reyes is doing a decent job filling it.

Detroit Tigers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Let’s be honest. Nobody really wanted Victor Reyes. He didn’t make sense with the roster. There were seemingly better options on the table, as the Tigers drafted first in the Rule 5 draft. He simply didn’t impress in any single aspect of his game other than his size and speed combo. The front office was either unwilling or unable to trade for his rights and send him to Toledo, and so Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire seemed set to use him as Victor Martinez’ personal pinch runner. The whole thing was a tangled, frustrating mess for months.

In the end, it’s less upsetting to see Detroit draft a player we don’t like than to see him mishandled. No one wants to see a prospect fail. Letting him stagnate on a major league bench while only getting occasional cameos to replace the worst baserunner in the game seems like a fantastic way to kill a player’s career. A developing ballplayer needs reps, especially at a level that challenges him. Occasionally letting him get carved up in matchups with pitchers who far outclass him does no good.

When Leonys Martín, the resident center fielder, injured his hamstring, a golden opportunity opened wide before Victor Reyes. For the first time this season, he had an opportunity to get somewhat regular at-bats. True, the Tigers did recall Mikie Mahtook from Toledo in Martín’s stead, but the fact remains that there hasn’t been a better opportunity for Reyes yet.

He has taken that opportunity and made the best of it. Finally seeing semi-regular plate appearances, Reyes is showing that he capable of more than we expected. Take a look at his numbers before and after Martín was placed on the disabled list.

Victor Reyes Stats

PA/G BA OBP SLG wRC+
PA/G BA OBP SLG wRC+
Through July 1 1.94 0.206 0.206 0.279 23
After July 1 2.75 0.333 0.364 0.381 106

As you can see, Reyes is playing the best baseball of his short career. He still runs like a deer and his ability to play adequate outfield defense was never in question. The big question then becomes two-pronged: First, what is fueling this outburst? Second, is this level of play sustainable? Let’s look at the numbers.

One encouraging sign is Reyes’ batted ball profile during this hot streak. The switch-hitter has developed a reputation as a wormkiller during his tenure with the Tigers. That isn’t undeserved — over half of the balls he’s put in play this season have been grounders. That trend has softened. Ground balls have become a less common occurrence and have only been making up 35.3% of his balls in play since the month began.

Instead of giving way to fly balls, they have been replaced with a massive number of line drives. This may be a big reason why he has performed so well. Though they are the mother of the dinger, only popups result in fewer hits than flyballs. Liners, on the other hand, are the most productive. Due to the fact that Reyes doesn’t incorporate power as a major part of his game, this is almost ideal.

There are reasons to doubt that this respectable level of performance will continue. First and foremost, his batting average on balls in play has swollen to an unsustainable level. As discussed above, Reyes’ newfound tendency to hit line drives could be partially responsible for fueling it. A large aspect, though, is inevitably luck. As we all know too well, luck always dries up.

That isn’t all. While Reyes now sports a more appealing variety of contact, he hasn’t really improved his quality of contact. That may sound like a bit of a contradiction, but bear with me. An increased line drive rate is always good thing. That said, not all line drives are Miguel Cabrera line drives that come screaming off the bat and rip through the holes in the defense. Since the beginning of July, Reyes still makes hard contact 6.1% less often and soft contact 5.4% more often than the league average.

In other words, his recipe for success is keeping the ball off the ground while also eliminating unnecessary loft that doesn’t pay for a hitter with below average power. This isn’t as impressive as the surface numbers may indicate, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

He has finally started taking some walks — a trait vital for any major leaguer — but it’s also at an extraordinarily low rate. The benchmark for an awful walk rate is about 4%. Reyes’ walk rate during July is only 4.5%. There’s too little separation between those figures for comfort.

All things considered, it seems unlikely that Victor Reyes will continue to produce at a high level. That’s okay, though. Detroit doesn’t need him to be a star. He just needs to be serviceable. If Reyes has a career as a fourth outfielder, he’ll be a downright spectacular Rule 5 selection. It’s looking more and more likely that he can be just that. Right now, he probably needs a good deal more time in the upper minors, but that will apparently have to wait until 2019. For the moment though, he’s at least taken a step toward justifying what the Tigers saw in him.