When it comes to the international prospect market, the Orioles aren’t exactly a major player. For the most part, it seems like the team has ignored this market entirely. They’re never reported to be in the mix for any high-level international talent, and often give away their international bonus pool money to sweeten the pot in trades.
The 2013 calendar year was no different - the Orioles spent far less on international talent than any other team in Major League Baseball. That season, their most “expensive” signing, at $350,000, was a 16-year-old third baseman from the Dominican Republic named Jomar Reyes.
In the few years since then, Reyes has become a hot prospect for the O’s. He hit well over 53 games during his debut season in rookie ball, and after about a week at the rookie level in 2015 he was promoted to Delmarva.
At the single-A level, Reyes continued to hit, posting a .278/.334/.440 slash line for the Shorebirds and earning an All-Star nod. He played in only 84 games for Delmarva that year due a series of minor injuries, including a sprained thumb and a concussion.
That performance was good enough to get the attention of the national media, and Reyes began to pop up on a handful of top prospect lists. He was generally up there with Chance Sisco as one of the top offensive prospects in the O’s system, with some outlets (such as Fangraphs) actually ranking Reyes higher.
Shortly after the 2015 season, Reyes suffered a broken hamate bone in his hand during a post-season instructional league. He had surgery in October, and by all accounts he was ready to roll at the beginning of 2016.
Let’s hope those accounts were wrong, because 2016 was a disaster. Reyes was promoted to Frederick after the prior year’s success, and he struggled at the plate the entire season.
He batted .228/.271/.336 (66 wRC+), with just ten home runs over 498 plate appearances. Even more bizarre than his decline in performance was the way that it happened.
While you would expect a prospect going through growing pains to have a change for the worse in his strikeout and walk rates as he faces better pitching, Reyes experienced none of that.
His walk rate was virtually unchanged from the year before (5.0%, from 5.4%), and his strikeout rate was actually a little better (20.5% vs. 21.8%). Rather, the decline in offensive performance seems almost entirely attributable to a decrease in power.
Reyes’ ISO dropped from .162 to .108, and his BABIP declined from .351 to .269. Basically, he was hitting the ball as much as he was in 2015, he just wasn’t hitting it as hard.
Was Reyes just unlucky? Was there a new nagging injury that we don’t know about? Could the hamate bone injury have had a lingering effect somehow, even though the surgery was nearly six months before the start of the season?
Let’s hope the answer to one of those is “yes”, because a Jomar Reyes without power hitting is not much of a prospect at all. That was the tool that led him to be signed in the first place, as Reyes was already 6’4” and hitting the ball a mile when he was a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic.
If you’re guessing a guy with Reyes’ size would not be a good fielder at third base, you’d be right. There have always been concerns about his ability to stick at third, but that came to head this season.
Exclusively playing third base, Reyes made 25 errors this season. If he were playing in the big leagues, that would be the second highest in all of MLB. Worse, he did it in only 126 games. It unfortunately seems like the third base question might be answered. That, combined with his poor offensive year, is a cause for concern.
Obviously he’ll have to hit better than he did this year to be of any value to the Orioles regardless of what position he plays. Hell, his 2016 batting line would be unacceptable for a shortstop. He needs to improve no matter what, but if it turns out that he needs to move to first base, the hill he needs to climb offensively becomes even higher.
We don’t have readily available WAR calculations for minor leaguers, but I’d have to think that a third baseman with 25 errors and a 66 wRC+ would be firmly sub-replacement level and probably rank near the bottom of the entire league.
If he has another year like 2016, Reyes will fall out of favor as a prospect pretty quickly. The good news is that time is on his side. He only turned 19 in February, making him about three and a half years younger than the average player in the Carolina League.
Reyes had an atrocious 2016 season. There’s just no other way of looking at it. But given his young age and his success until this year, it’s far too early to call him a bust. We don’t really know who the real Jomar Reyes is yet, but 2017 should go a long way toward helping us figure that out.