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The 19-year-old prospect, ranked No. 23 in the organization by MLB Pipeline, had spent six months in the Dominican Republic, practicing in a batting cage inside his home. He hadn’t played a structured game since the 2019 Dominican Summer League season concluded.
But five days into Reyes’ stay in Lakeland, he tested positive for COVID-19.
“I spent two weeks in quarantine, not leaving the room, not going out to see the sun,” Reyes said in early November. “No nothing. Going back on track, it was pretty hard because I wasn’t as comfortable as I wanted (to be).”
Reyes became healthy again, despite losing weight and strength. He rejoined his fellow prospects for games and workouts.
The Tigers signed him in July 2018 with a $1.45 million bonus because of his offensive projection, and they’re seeing steady progress.
“He was a guy that, he stuck out with his bat for things he could do at his age,” Tom Moore, Tigers director of international operations, said. “We signed Willy Adames out of the same program (in Santiago, Dominican Republic), so it was a program we’ve always had our attention on. There’s a track record there.”
Adames signed with the Tigers in July 2012 for a $420,000 bonus, but was traded in 2014 to the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team deal, which sent David Price to Detroit. The 25-year-old appeared in the 2020 World Series as Tampa Bay’s starting shortstop.
“I would have loved to see him do that with a Tigers uniform on,” Moore said. “It was really exciting for Willy to have that experience at such a young age. It’ll do nothing but help him for the rest of his career.”
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Because of where they’re from, despite a six-year age gap, Reyes and Adames are familiar with each other. They met sometime after Adames was traded to the Rays. Last season, Adames hit .259 with eight homers and 23 RBIs in 54 games.
Reyes had a blast watching him from afar.
“It felt great watching him play in the World Series,” Reyes said. “We have good communication.”
While Adames was chasing a ring, Reyes didn’t get on the field during the 2020 season. Before the worldwide spread of the virus, he was expected to make his first U.S. appearance this year for the Rookie Gulf Coast League Tigers.
Reyes succeeded in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, hitting .331 with seven homers and 48 RBIs in 62 games. He was ready for a promotion.
“In our job where we’re signing players at 16 years old, you’re looking for some sort of feedback in terms of what sort of job you did,” Moore said. “Ultimately, we’re looking for guys that get to the big leagues. But their first taste of pro ball is the first way to show feedback to us of the job we did.
“That was certainly something that was exciting for all of us that were involved in the signing process with those guys (Reyes and outfielder Jose De La Cruz).”
Reyes knows there are holes in his game. He sees the strike zone well but can be too aggressive at times; he struck out 51 times with 14 walks in 2019. And after a .880 fielding percentage in the Dominican Summer League, he made it a point to clean up his defense at shortstop.
“Hitting is very well,” Reyes said. “I’m doing very well. I think that’s a gift to me. Defensively speaking, I know I have to get better fielding ground balls. I get them, I stop them. But I got to read better the ball when it’s coming toward me.
“I’ve got to improve that.”
Meet the Detroit Tigers prospects at their Dominican Republic academy
Detroit Tigers prospects from Dominican Republic and Venezuela introduce themselves. Filmed in March, 2020 at the Tigers’ Dominican Republic academy.