TCN 2018 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #1: Alex Reyes

photo: Alex Reyes (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

By The Cardinal Nation staff

2017 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
1 RHS 08 29 94 6-3 185 R R 2012 IFA

Link to Reyes’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Selected 2017 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO AVG G/AO BABIP
DNP

TCN Scouting Grade: 8, Risk: Low (click here to review scales)

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (1): Alex Reyes checked in at #1 during the community vote for the third straight year. He garnered 8 of 11 first-place votes after nailing 18 of 19 last year.

Reyes’ injury status was the primary discussion point as the few differing voters were specifically questioning his ability to recover in both the short and long-term. Bw52 thought that it may take until 2019 to see the pre-injured Reyes again and, given that, he took Carson Kelly over Reyes. Likewise, Brianpnoonan took Kelly over Reyes, stating that he thinks both are future all-stars, but Kelly doesn’t have the injury questions like Reyes.

Further, Brianpnoonan posted that even when health wasn’t an issue, Reyes had between bad and horrible control issues. 14NyquisT believed those issues to be behind him after the 2016 season and the question will be whether Reyes will have the velocity back after having Tommy John surgery. David Greenwald summed up the vote well, stating that Kelly is a good catching prospect, Flaherty is great starting pitching prospect, but Reyes is a potentially transformational talent and is still the clear #1 prospect in the organization. – Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (1): Even after Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of 2017, Reyes remains far and away the Cardinals best prospect with the potential to dethrone Carlos Martinez as the organization’s most impactful arm in history who was signed out of Latin America.

Alex Reyes (USA TODAY Sports Images)

When Reyes is healthy, it is hard to find many pitchers that can match him in terms of pure stuff and upside.

Reyes, who now stands 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, filled out his frame considerably since he signed at 175 pounds, especially in his lower half with tree trunks for legs with a thickish, but athletic looking frame. That gives him the base to become a durable starter who can log 200 or more innings.

Mechanically, he throws from a high three-quarters arm slot, generating electric, plus arm speed. His mechanics are clean overall and he repeats his delivery when he stays under control and doesn’t overthrow. When he does overthrow, the command profile slips and that causes some effort in his delivery, preventing him from profiling as a true No. 1 starter. The Cardinals coaching staff believes what is needed for him to pitch deeper into games with a more efficient pitch count is to find the right rhythm for his delivery, so that he can repeat it.

At his best, the high-octane right-hander throws very, very, hard with double-plus velocity that makes him an elite prospect. Reyes averages 97 mph on his fastball, working comfortably in the 96-100 mph range with at least one 102 mph reading in the minor leagues. The heater isn’t straight either, featuring explosive life and he has an ability to sustain the power deep into starts. Perhaps his biggest weakness with the pitch in the past has been his tendency to overthrow it, which can cause his command to waver at times.

Reyes also owned one of the best power curveballs (78-81 mph) in the minors as well as a swing-and-miss hammer breaking pitch that graded out as a 70 offering on the 20-80 scouting scale. It features true 12-6 break with depth, controlled well with his ability to throw it for strikes or bury it down in or below the strike zone to get outs. Reyes can throw it at any point in the count regardless of the handedness of the batter. In the majors, a lot of his strikeouts came off the curve.

To round out his arsenal, Reyes’ changeup (87-88 mph) projects to be a plus pitch, though with less consistency than the other two. The offspeed pitch doesn’t have much movement but is effective due to the absurd velocity separation off his fastball and improved conviction in throwing it. He also experimented with a short cutter/slider that will allow him to dominate both sides of the plate and work through a lineup multiple times.

With two present plus pitches, one potential plus pitch, and at least average command as a starter, Reyes has the upside of an ace hurler at the top of the rotation – if his stuff comes back and his command improves.

During his Tommy John rehab, Reyes has gotten noticeably stronger, replacing fat with muscle and improving his eating for general fitness.

Looking ahead, Reyes continues his offseason work in Jupiter, Florida with team officials saying he might begin 2018 in the Cardinals bullpen rather than immediately going to the rotation.

Brian Walton (1): In becoming our top Cardinals prospect for the third consecutive year, Reyes ties the record set by Colby Rasmus from 2007 through 2009.

My decision between Reyes and Jack Flaherty as the top pitching prospect was not a difficult one. Flaherty had a great 2017 and is a valuable prospect, but I see Reyes as a transformational talent. Further, as I see it, his very high ceiling remains unchanged – unless he cannot recover from Tommy John surgery. A full return is not automatic, of course, but it is about as close as any procedure a pitcher could undergo.

Let’s review his timetable. Reyes was diagnosed with a torn UCL in his right elbow as 2017 spring camp opened. He underwent Tommy John surgery in Jupiter, Florida on February 16, nine days before the team’s Grapefruit League opener.

By mid-June, expectations were that Reyes would begin throwing in mid-to-late July. In fact, on July 19, Reyes announced on his Instagram account that had occurred. His initial activities consisted of short throws from his knees against a wall.

The next week, he progressed to throwing 60 foot long-tossing on flat ground and moved up to 90 feet on August 13. In a major milestone, Reyes threw his first bullpen session on September 29, leading to increased speculation he would be ready to open 2018.

However, in early November, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak pumped the brakes, hinting to the Post-Dispatch that Reyes may not be eased into action until close to May 1, and then as a reliever. The thinking is to preserve his innings until later in the season.

A May 2018 debut would put Reyes’ elapsed time at 14-to-15 months, on the high side of typical Tommy John recovery schedules, but playing it safe with him makes all the sense in the world. Just last year, the Cardinals had one of the quickest returns in reliever Zach Duke. The lefty’s TJ surgery was in October 2016 and he was back with St. Louis in nine months, activated and ready to go before July was out.

As soon as the relief possibility was resurfaced for Reyes, some jumped to the conclusion that he is the best choice to step into the open closer’s void. As an example, they point to Trevor Rosenthal’s quick and effective role change from starting exclusively through the minors to closing for St. Louis.

First of all, I believe Reyes’ plus offerings dictate his ultimate role is going to be at the top of the rotation. On an interim basis, he could be used in scripted middle relief situations, but I highly doubt the team would throw a pitcher coming off Tommy John into the ninth inning – nor should they, in my opinion.

Even before Reyes was injured, his Achilles heel was his control. While Rosenthal also struggled with his free passes with St. Louis, his rate was lower than Reyes’ at the same levels.

In illustration, here are their Memphis and first-year St. Louis numbers. This is not intended to be definitive, as Rosenthal’s body of work in their first year at each level was lower.

AAA ERA FIP GS IP BB/9 SO/9 WHIP StL ERA FIP GS IP BB/9 SO/9 WHIP
Rsnthl 4.20 3.13 3 15 3.0 12.6 1.07 Rsnthl 2.78 3.09 0 22.1 2.8 9.9 0.93
Reyes 4.96 3.72 14 65.1 4.4 12.8 1.45 Reyes 1.57 2.67 5 46 4.5 10.2 1.22

Still, what stands out most to me in this comparison is that Reyes’ walk rate was too high both at Memphis and with St. Louis – in both cases about 50 percent higher than Rosenthal. Expecting better control from Reyes in 2018 after a year layoff and surgery recovery could lead to disappointment.

It remains to be seen if the Cardinals add another veteran to their 2018 rotation mix. Counting on Luke Weaver and Miles Mikolas to replace the innings pitched by veteran starters Lance Lynn and Mike Leake may be asking too much. Then there is the open question of whether Adam Wainwright can will his way through one last season among the starting five. Sure, Jack Flaherty is finishing his internship in the wings, but will there be enough arms to cover the necessary innings, even if everyone remains healthy for six months?

Given all that, the Cardinals’ plan to take it easy with Reyes initially, getting his arsenal of pitches up to snuff with an eye toward potentially inserting him into the rotation later in the season makes good sense to me.

Last year, Reyes’ 2017 Scouting Grade here was an “8 Low”, with a ceiling of an elite talent and relatively little additional development work required. I see no reason to change it now. Rightfully so, Reyes receives my only “8” assessment in the entire Cardinals system.

Link to Reyes’ career stats

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