Tigers' Victor Reyes unruffled by late start or increased competition
Lakeland, Fla. — We should all have some of Victor Reyes’ inner calm.
This is yet another pivotal spring training for the Tigers’ 26-year-old outfielder. On paper, his spot on the roster is fairly secure. His spot in the starting lineup, not so much. The Tigers brought in two veteran corner outfielders, Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara, who could very likely relegate him to fourth-outfielder status.
Another level of potential stress would be the drafting and initial impressive start of Rule 5 outfielder Akil Baddoo. If the Tigers decide to carry him all season, Reyes, who has minor-league options left, could be vulnerable.
And on top of all that, he’s getting a two-week late start to camp because of travel and COVID-19 protocol delays
But talking to Reyes via Zoom on Tuesday, it was all still waters, no turbulence behind the eyes at all.
“That’s just something that’s beyond my reach,” Reyes said of the delays, through Tigers bilingual interpreter Carlos Guillen. “It’s out of my hands. All I could do is wait. Fortunately, I am back with the guys.”
It was never a question of Reyes staying in shape. He’s a gym rat, regardless what continent he’s on — North America, South America. He found a couple of pitchers to throw to him in Venezuela and he did plenty of defensive drill work.
“Physical kid,” was manager AJ Hinch’s first impression when he met Reyes last week.
He’s ready to hit the ground running. But the fact is, he will be running uphill early, playing catch-up, with two veterans ahead of him at the corner outfield spots.
“I’m happy,” he said of the club’s acquisitions. “The team looks pretty good. But nothing changes for me. Every day I go out to compete and do whatever I can to help bring us a win.”
Maybe his serenity comes from all that he’s already come through in his career. He hadn’t played above Class A ball when the Tigers took him in the Rule 5 draft in 2017 and he managed to stay on the big-league roster the entire 2018 season.
He’s been a fixture in the outfield since, slashing .293/.327/.414 with 23 doubles, seven triples, seven home runs and 17 stolen bases in 126 games the last two seasons. He’s been a plus-3 defensive runs saved in three seasons with 11 outfield assists.
“He had to grow up in the big leagues and that’s not easy,” Hinch said. “We’re looking at Baddoo as a potential guy on our team to go wire-to-wire as a Rule 5 pick and keep going, keep maturing and learn the game. This game moves pretty fast up here in the big leagues.
“I’ve been impressed the way (Reyes) has been able to maintain his growth and development.”
Hinch hadn’t even put Reyes through a full workout (that happened Tuesday on the back fields) before he noticed the upbeat, positive energy he brings every day.
“It’s through the roof,” Hinch said. “The smile is big when he meets you. He seems like a happy guy. A lot of the guys were happy to see him, so I know he’s popular in the clubhouse. Defensively, the fact he can move around the outfield is valuable and the switch-hit component is good.
“He handles left-handed pitching a little better than righties, but we’ll keep grinding at both swings and see if he can push for more playing time.”
It’s conceivable that Reyes and left-handed hitting Mazara would end up platooning in right field, but it’s too early to place any limitations or roles on either player. Right now, it’s just time for Reyes to go to work and show a new coaching staff what he brings.
“Every year is important to me,” he said. “Last year I played 57 out of (58) games and this year I want to keep proving myself and show why I’m here. Just go out every day and do your job and try to be better every day. I don’t focus on that (roster issues). What I have to do is go out every day and do the best I can do.”
It seems odd to say but, thank goodness it was just a broken nose.
There was great relief around TigerTown after hearing that the 94-mph fastball that catcher Grayson Greiner took in the face Sunday broke his nose and not any of the bones around his eye — which would have put him out for months, not a week as is expected now.
“We did dodge a tough one,” Hinch said. “It’s still tough news, but it’s better than it could’ve been.”
Hinch said he expects no activity for Greiner for a few days and then easing him back onto the field.
“We’ll get him back in a game when he feels like he can,” Hinch said. “But what looked like when I got out to the plate as a pretty rough situation turned out to be the best news we could get.”
Right-handed pitching prospect Jason Foley has put himself on the Tigers’ radar this spring, and he’s not even in camp.
Foley, who has come through Tommy John surgery, is in minicamp but he’s raised eyes with his two spring appearances.
“He’s got an incredible sinking fastball at about 100 mph,” Hinch said, exaggerating by 1 mph. “That’s not easy to harness, but it’s also not easy to find. If he’s able to throw his breaking ball a little more often, we’ve got an opportunity to develop a power reliever with size and stuff.
“If he’s in the strike zone, he can be a big-leaguer.”
Around the horn
First baseman Renato Nunez has arrived in camp at last. He spent Tuesday taking live batting practice and going through a full team workout on the back fields with Reyes and outfielder Daz Cameron, who is still limited by an elbow injury. Hinch said Reyes is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday. Nunez could debut Friday.
…Jonathan Schoop is in Lakeland, but he is the last roster player awaiting clearance to begin camp.