Victor Reyes ‘emotional’ over fresh start with Tigers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Victor Reyes

St. Petersburg, Fla. – For all of spring camp, he insisted on staying quiet, never for a moment wanting to imply that he was destined for Detroit and for a spot on the Tigers’ regular-season roster.

But now he understands he can, and must, accept reality. Victor Reyes is going north with the Tigers and for a crash-course in big-league life.

“It’s really emotional,” Reyes said Tuesday, via the Tigers’ Spanish-speaking interpreter, Bryan Loor-Almonte, during a chat outside the visitor’s clubhouse at Tropicana Field. “It’s something I still can’t believe. I just want to thank the Tigers organization and everyone who has helped me get here.

“It’s an exciting time for me.”

Reyes, 23, was sitting at home in Venezuela when his agent called Dec. 14 with news: The Tigers had taken Reyes with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, which is an escape hatch for players who have played at least four seasons in the minors with one club but haven’t been placed on that team’s 40-man roster.

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The Tigers would send a $100,000 check to the Diamondbacks and audition Reyes during spring camp. If he looked like a player the Tigers wanted long-term, they would need carry Reyes for the entire 2018 season on their 25-man active roster.

If he didn’t pass spring training’s tests, the Tigers could either send him back to Arizona for one-half their $100,000 fee, or, perhaps, work out a trade to retain him and send him to the minors.

It’s a broad jump, going from Double A in the minors to the big leagues. But the Tigers liked what they saw in a 6-foot-3, 170-pound, switch-hitting outfielder the team believes should add power to his portfolio and perhaps become an eventual plus roster-piece.

Reyes had no time to relax during his seven weeks in Lakeland. Every at-bat, every experience on the basepaths, every fly ball or base hit rapped his way – he was under constant scrutiny.

“There was a little bit of pressure,” said Reyes, a cordial gent who has an easy smile. “But if I tried to think too much about it, it would get me out of my game.

“I knew it was up to the front office. I could only play hard and let them decide.”

The Tigers had, in fact, decided early in camp that Reyes likely would go north.

“Every day, he does something that impresses you,” said Tigers general manager Al Avila.

Victor Reyes

But there are no guarantees this season. Nor beyond. There were reasons Reyes, who doesn’t turn 24 until October, was not on Arizona’s 40-man roster. For all the splendor of a physique that makes him look more like a football receiver, Reyes has hit only 12 home runs in six minor-league seasons.

He also has a sub-par throwing arm.

But in both cases the Tigers believe Reyes has room to grow. They suspect an outfielder who runs exceedingly well, and who has a career .298 batting average to go with a premium .347 on-base percentage, will acquire more crunch as he grows older.

They also have him on a high-caliber throwing program designed to put more zip behind his throws.

Reyes shrugs and smiles when asks why the Diamondbacks allowed him to be snatched by Detroit. He believes the D’backs are the better sources there.

He says also that he had no serious expectations of being grabbed in the Rule 5 draft, nor did he know Detroit might be the team. Reyes acknowledges only that he heard his name tossed about.

“I wasn’t expecting a call from my agent,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to the chance in Detroit. It’s a blessing.”

Reyes realizes outfielders are primarily offensive players. He appreciates that power is part of the profile there. He also concedes it’s a delicate balance – trying to get stronger, needing to hit pitches for more distance, all while not messing up mechanics and a swing that tends to make contact, often hard contact.

“If I keep working, the power will come,” said Reyes, who, also says the team’s new throwing program for him has helped “100 percent” and that “already I feel different, that I have more strength.”

Not surprisingly, Reyes is taking regular counsel from two premier hitters and Venezuelan countrymen: Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

“Getting a lot of advice from them,” said Reyes, who says the Tigers clubhouse has been an oasis – filled with teammates intent on welcoming and helping him.

Playing time, he realizes, could be a challenge, even if Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire has said Reyes will get as many opportunities as reasonably can be granted.

“I’ve just got to be prepared for it,” he said, explaining that getting steady work in the outfield during batting practice, as well as extra time in the batting cages with the Tigers hitting tutors, will be part of a daily regimen – and mission.

“I’m just going to prepare every day,” he said. “I know I’ll be ready to play.”

Twitter @Lynn_Henning