LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Tigers closed out their active Winter Meetings by selecting outfielder Victor Reyes with the top pick in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.
Reyes was a member of the D-backs' organization, and was Arizona's No. 18 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com.The 23-year-old Venezuelan is a switch-hitting contact hitter with speed, and holds a .298 career batting average over five Minor League seasons. He batted .292 (140-for-479) this past season at Double-A Jackson with 29 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 51 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. He also played in the Arizona Fall League, where Tigers pro scouts watched the youngster extensively.
The Tigers also had the insight of special assistant and longtime scout Mike Russell, who spent two years with the D-backs in a similar role.
"We'd seen him for a while," Tigers player development director Dave Littlefield said. "He's a good-looking center fielder, can play all three [spots], a switch-hitter that gets on base. He's still a projection with the bat, but very athletic. And with our situation as it is, it seemed to be a very good fit."
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The situation of a rebuilding project played a role in the pick. Much of the pre-Draft speculation centered on the Tigers using the top spot to supplement their bullpen ranks, and they were projected by some to covet hard-throwing Twins prospect Nick Burdi, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery but would provide high-upside talent if healthy. But with a thin outfield roster, even after signing free agent Leonys Martin last week, the Tigers went for more immediate help.
Reyes is expected to compete for at-bats in center field in Spring Training.
"Obviously with our situation, we're going to be younger in certain areas," Littlefield said. "That's a spot in center field where we went out and signed Martin. JaCoby Jones obviously will get a lot of opportunity. We'll see how it plays out with how [manager] Ron [Gardenhire] wants to handle it, but we're going in with the mindset that [Reyes is] going to get every opportunity. We like him as a player, so we'll see how it goes."
The question for Reyes, both this spring and long term, comes down to power, not so much home run power but extra bases in general. The outfielder's 29 doubles this year was by far his career high, but despite his speed, he has topped five triples in a season only once in his career. Likewise, his career high in stolen bases is 20.
"Strength is the major issue," Littlefield said. "He's a younger guy and kind of a slender build, but has a good idea of the strike zone, works the count well. He just needs strength for the most part, and I think that's why he was probably available."
D-backs general manager Mike Hazen hinted that Reyes' lack of power may have been the reason the outfielder was left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft.
"He's a good player," Hazen told reporters. "Best of luck to him. He's a great kid. From a protection standpoint, we felt like it wasn't the right time to put him on the roster and we'll see. He'll have an opportunity over there, I would imagine, and good for him."
Though the Tigers were talking about taking a second Rule 5 player after freeing up another roster spot with Wednesday's trade of Ian Kinsler, they decided to pass after potential candidates went off the board. Detroit didn't have the roster spots to do anything in the Minor League phase, but it lost three players from its Double-A Erie roster. Catcher Locke St. John went to Texas, right-hander Francisco German to Tampa Bay and first baseman Will Allen went to the Marlins.