Reyes gets rare start as Tigers try to keep Rule 5 pick in mix

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Baltimore — One can imagine, at baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, on that final day when the Rule 5 draft completes four days of proceedings and big-league managers learn their team has drafted a Rule 5 player.

Great. Just great.

Now the skipper is obliged to carry a 25th roster player who probably has no more business on the big-league active list than a bat boy who someday might morph into a prospect.

Ron Gardenhire has, like most managers, been down this road before. He is walking it again with outfielder Victor Reyes.

He is doing his best to keep a spare player involved. He is doing it knowing there can be minimal, maybe next to zero, dividends in 2018. Rule 5 players are grabbed as a future resource. They become present-day considerations a manager can’t ignore, which is why Reyes, who is batting all of .083 on the season, was starting in left field Sunday as the Tigers and Orioles wrapped up their weekend series at Camden Yards.

“I think it’s fine,” Gardenhire said Sunday morning, with what appeared to be a straight face, as he sat in the visiting manager’s office at Camden Yards. “Yes, when you have only three men on the bench it makes a difference.

“But you know what? That kid’s always ready when he’s called on.”

That the 23-year-old Reyes has impeccable Boy Scout attributes, there is no debate. It is one reason the Tigers filched him from the Diamondbacks roster during December’s Rule 5 draft, which operates as an escape-hatch for minor-league players who probably need a new home.

It works accordingly:

If a player has been in a team’s minor-league system for 4-5 years (depends on signing date and age), and has not been added to a big-league club’s 40-man roster, that player can be swiped by another club, for a $100,000 fee. The catch is the player must be kept on the 25-man active roster for the entire ensuing season, unless disabled.

If it’s decided there is no room for him, either during spring camp or at any time during the upcoming season, he must be offered back to his old team for one-half the $100,000 purchase price. Or, the teams can work a trade.

More:Victor Reyes ‘emotional’ over fresh start with Tigers

The Tigers thought enough of Reyes’ physique (6-foot-3, 170) and potential — a key word, potential — to add power that a team in need of all the position help it can get opted to make him December’s first overall Rule 5 selection.

The irony to hanging onto a young player, who had advanced no farther than Single A in the Diamondbacks’ system, is that he can be returned to the Tigers farm next season. And that would be a high-percentage bet as Reyes’ future is plotted. The Tigers believe that once muscle arrives in proportion to his height, they can turn a man who had a .298 career batting average in the minors, with a .347 on-base percentage, into a legitimate big-league asset.

Reyes got the start Sunday as Leonys Martin was granted a day off against Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. JaCoby Jones was to start in center field.

Gardenhire continued to insist Sunday that he can live happily with Reyes. He can keep him busy, the skipper stated, and not have an outfielder feel as if he has less value than a dugout bat rack.

“You’re carrying a kid out of A ball,” Gardenhire said, referring to Reyes’ past days on the farm, “but he’s more advanced. He’s a big, strong kid. During spring camp, he had no fear. And when I put him out there now, there’s no fear.”

The Tigers were going to throw Daniel Norris into some uncommonly frigid weather (40s heading into the low 50s) as their choice to start Sunday’s game against Gausman.

The Tigers beat the Orioles, 9-5, in Saturday night’s game, which put a stop to the Tigers’ three-game losing skid.