The Royals have signed outfielder/designated hitter Franmil Reyes to a minor league deal, per a report from Anne Rogers and Juan Toribio of MLB.com. He has been invited to major league Spring Training.
One year ago, the idea of Reyes settling for a minors deal would have been quite surprising, as he had seemingly established himself as a reliable middle-of-the-order threat. From his 2018 debut through the end of the 2021 season, he had launched 92 home runs in 529 games. His 29.5% strikeout rate was certainly on the high side, but he paired that with a solid 9% walk rate. His 119 wRC+ in that stretch indicates that he was 19% better than the league average hitter.
Unfortunately, 2022 was easily the worst season of his career. His walk rate dropped to 6.3% while his strikeout problem got worse, as he was punched out in 33.2% of his trips to the plate. The Guardians designated him for assignment in August and he was claimed by the Cubs, but the latter team cut him from their roster at season’s end. He finished the campaign with 14 home runs and a batting line of .221/.273/.365, wRC+ of 80.
That drop was quite disastrous for a player like Reyes who doesn’t really bring anything else to the table. He’s not a burner on the basepaths and he’s not a strong defender either. He was given poor grades for his glovework at the start of his career and has been mostly a designated hitter of late. He played more than 500 innings in the outfield in each of 2018 and 2019 but hasn’t reached even 100 innings in any of the past three.
With that kind of profile, Reyes really needs to get back on track at the plate in order to have any value. There are reasons to think that his power is still in there, as he still made loud contact last year when he did connect. Statcast placed him in the 92nd percentile in terms of average exit velocity last year, in the 85th percentile in terms of maximum exit velocity, 79th in hard hit rate and 80th in terms of barrel rate.
The Royals are an interesting team to have brought Reyes aboard, since they seemingly already have a number of candidates for corner outfield work and the designated hitter slot. The trade of Michael A. Taylor opened up center field for someone like Drew Waters, but they still have Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares as candidates for the corners. There are also players who could get bumped to the outfield from other areas, including MJ Melendez. With Salvador Perez taking the bulk of the work behind the plate, Melendez will end up in the outfield or serving in the DH often. Corner infielders like Hunter Dozier, Nick Pratto and Nate Eaton could also see some time on the grass, with Vinnie Pasquantino likely taking first base and Nicky Lopez perhaps getting some time at third since Bobby Witt Jr. and Michael Massey could be the primary middle infield combo.
It will be a challenge for Reyes to force his way into that mix, but most of those other players are young and can be optioned to the minors. If he can make 2022 seem like a fluke and get back to being the 30-homer per year kind of guy that he was prior to that, the club would likely find a way to make it work. If Reyes can get his way back onto the roster, he still has a couple of option years and could also be retained for 2024 via arbitration since he has between four and five years of service time.