Tampa, Fla. — Manager Ron Gardenhire understands how this works.
The Tigers took young outfielder Victor Reyes with the first pick of the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings. That means Reyes has to remain on the active roster this season or else be exposed to waivers and offered back to the Diamondbacks, from whom they swiped him.
“He’s from another organization and our organization has put a lot of stock in him, taking him with the No. 1 pick like that,” Gardenhire said. “That’s something we’ve got to look at. We understand what we have here. We have had good conversations on that and we will have some more.”
Here’s the rub: If the Tigers were to pick their top four outfielders in camp right now, Reyes would probably be considered fifth on the list behind Nick Castellanos, Leonys Martin, Mikie Mahtook and JaCoby Jones.
Jones has had another outstanding spring hitting .391 with a .481 on-base percentage and has played flawlessly in both center and left. But Jones has a minor-league option left, so the Tigers run no risk of losing him if he starts the year in Toledo. That’s not the case with Reyes, who is hitting .200 with a .250 OBP in 30 spring at-bats.
“It’s a big one,” Gardenhire said of the Reyes Rule 5 dilemma. “We’ve discussed that quite a few different times. What does he look like in this organization, with the depth we have or don’t have? Will he be a guy we keep this year and go through a year with him? What is his ceiling?
“Those are big questions. There are people here that drafted him who feel there is something there. They’ve seen him more that I have. We’re studying him really hard.”
Gardenhire likes what he’s seen in Reyes thus far, especially his long, loping strides in the outfield. He covers a lot of territory, which is mandatory when your home field is Comerica Park.
“I’m more worried about does he know what he’s doing in the outfield, where the cutoff man is and all those little fundamental things,” he said. “Running the bases, he seems like he handles that well. He hasn’t been overwhelmed at all. He fits right in.
“There are a lot of pluses. But we’ve not been facing major-league pitchers for six or seven innings. Will he be able to stack up against some of the better pitchers? To be honest, this is something we are looking into really, really hard.”
The bigger question is whether it’s right for the player and the organization to keep a developing player on the big-league roster, in a reserve role with limited at-bats, for a full year.
“It’s whether we can do that, whether we should do that,” Gardenhire said. “We know where we are going in this organization and he fits the mold. He’s a young player who can do some things and is talented. There is a reason why they picked him.”
As for Jones, he’s recently begun taking ground balls at third base — a position he played before being moved to center field in 2016.
“He’s an outfielder, a really good outfielder,” Gardenhire said. “But you want to give yourself options. Our bench is not going to be deep so whoever is on the bench probably needs to be doing a few different things.
“I think he’s looking at that. He wants to be on the ballclub.”
It’s a sticky situation. The Tigers picked left-hander Daniel Stumpf in the Rule 5 draft last year and were able to re-sign him to a minor-league deal. That was largely because he was a two-time Rule 5 pick, which gave him free-agent status once the Tigers cut him.
It was his choice to re-sign with the Tigers.
Reyes won’t have that freedom. If the Tigers cut him, they likely will lose him.
“Is it going to be worth it; is it going to be a waste of a season for the guy,” Gardenhire said. “I look at it like, I can use him. I know where we are at as an organization. We’re developing and all those things. I think I can use him.
“That’s the conversation. How much would we use him?”