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2020 Player review: Victor Reyes earned a starting role in Tigers’ outfield

Former Rule 5 pick has contributed much more greatly than many expected.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Victor Reyes led all Tigers’ position players over the 2019 and 2020 seasons with an fWAR of 2.4. Just let that sink in for a minute — both the 2.4 number and the fact that the leader is Reyes. In 505 plate appearances over two seasons, Reyes has slashed .297/.327/.414 with seven home runs and 17 stolen bases.

When the Detroit Tigers selected Victor Reyes with the first overall selection in the 2017 Rule 5 draft from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization, they knew that they would have to be patient as he finished developing his skills. After three seasons, the Tigers’ patience has started to pay off. Reyes has now posted consecutive seasons making positive contributions to a lineup that is desperate for major league talent, in an outfield that is short of that commodity.

Reyes came advertised as a 6’5” switch hitter from Venezuela with plus speed and a major league-ready glove who could handle all three outfield positions. He was billed as a fourth outfielder who could develop into a starter with a bit more power.

After struggling, as expected, in a 2018 season where the club was required to keep their Rule 5 selection on the major league roster for the full season, the Tigers were able to work Reyes into the major league lineup in 2019 while giving him time in Triple-A Toledo as well. In his second season with the organization, he posted a slash line of .304/.336/.431 over 292 plate appearances in Detroit, which is right on target with his line of .304/.334/.481 over 308 plate appearances in Toledo. By the end of the 2019 season, with Nick Castellanos being traded away, Reyes was a starting major leaguer.

Reyes began the 2020 season as a starting outfielder in the Tigers’ lineup and he held that position for the season, starting 57 of the team’s abbreviated 60 game season. He played all or part of 30 games in center field, 22 in left field, and 18 in right. He is a versatile player who will earn the major league minimum salary for another season before being eligible for arbitration after the 2021 season.

At the plate, Reyes slashed .277/.315/.391 for a wOBA of .309 and a wRC+ of 92. That’s down from his 2019 numbers where he was buoyed by an unsustainable .373 batting average on balls in play. Reyes is going to have a higher than normal BABIP because of his speed, but his .340 mark in 2020 is more realistic. He led the club with eight steals in the abbreviated season.

Reyes may owe his starting job to the fact that the Tigers traded Castellanos and decided not to replace him with a major league outfielder while they sorted through a pile of prospects who are not ready for prime time, such as Christin Stewart and Travis Demeritte. The presence — or absence — of Jacoby Jones is the main factor in determining which outfield position Reyes plays, but he handles all three positions with more than adequate ability. So the scouting report of a fourth outfielder — on a good roster — with starting ability if he adds more power, seems to be on target. He could also improve his walk rate, which is stuck under 5 percent.

15 players were selected in the first round of the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December 2017. Eight of those players were returned to their original teams before the season began. Four players began the season with their new clubs but were designated for assignment by October, and just four of the 15 selected stuck with their new teams.

Reyes is not the biggest success story in his draft class. Brad Keller, who was selected by Cincinnati Reds with the fifth pick and immediately traded to the Kansas City joined the Royals rotation immediately and has stuck, making nine starts in 2020 with a 2.41 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. Elieser Hernandez was selected by Miami with the 10th pick in the draft and has likewise stuck in the major league rotation after starting out in the Marlins’ bullpen. He pitched to a 3.16 ERA in six starts.

Nick Burdi was the most highly touted prospect to be selected in the 2017 Rule 5 draft, being taken by the Minnesota Twins with the third pick and immediately dealt to Pittsburgh. He has worked just 12.1 innings in the majors over three seasons with the Pirates as his health struggles continue.

As the Tigers’ painfully slow rebuilding project drags on, the club is looking for players who could be a part of a contending team’s lineup. Reyes has that ability presently as a contributor, but most observers would say that the team is still two or three outfielders shy of a major league outfield.