photo: Alex Reyes (Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports)
FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 reaches the top with our first-ever four-year number one prospect, right-handed pitcher Alex Reyes. The questions are similar, but the situation is changing.
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Link to Alex Reyes’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Selected 2018 stats
TCN Scouting Grade: 7, Risk: medium (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 fourth straight year, as he fell exactly one out short of losing his prospect status. He garnered 13 of 16 first-place votes, culminating in a four-year total accumulation of 75% of the first place votes, starting at 50% in 2015.
Last year, Reyes’ injury status was the primary discussion point as many posters were lukewarm on whether he would return from Tommy John surgery to his prior dominant self. Thejager likes Reyes’ upside, which keeps him on top of the prospect list despite the injuries. Bw52 said that he didn’t consider Reyes at all as he can’t stay healthy and you can’t play if you’re always in the training room or doctor’s office. Mudville countered, saying that when Reyes is on, his pitches move in ways that defy the laws of physics. Grenadier1 agreed, noting that Reyes absolutely dominated during his rehab starts to remind everyone of his ceiling, but remains worried about his recovery from the latest injury. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (1): Even after Tommy John surgery two years ago and season-ending shoulder surgery in 2018, 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.
Plan and simple, it just comes down to health.
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.
Over the course of his 2018 rehab tour, Reyes showed improved efficiency. The 7 ⅔ innings he threw on May 19 was the longest outing of his minor league career.
In fact, Reyes had never pitched into the eighth inning before at any level.
“Just to be able to get that deep in the game was exciting,” Reyes said after that game. “That’s my focus every night. That’s been one of my things throughout my Minor League career, and even in the big leagues, is getting deeper into games.”
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 owns a true power curveball (78-81 mph), a true 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 off-speed 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 has experimented with a short cutter/slider that will allow him to dominate both sides of the plate and work through a lineup multiple times.
“I got that pitch when I got called up to the big leagues in 2016,” Reyes said. “I have just been able to sharpen it up a little bit.”
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.
Reyes has gotten noticeably stronger as well, replacing fat with muscle and improving his eating for general fitness.
Looking ahead, Reyes’ next season sets up a lot like this past season: prepped as a starter, ready as a starter entering spring, on a reduced workload during spring, appearing late in the spring and starting the year on the DL or in the minors.
Brian Walton (1): Finally, on the last player in our long countdown, do all three of our voters again come to full agreement on a prospect. It had been a while. Reyes has an unprecedented honor here as our first-ever four-time number one prospect in the Cardinals system. Despite that, there is still a lot to discuss about the New Jersey native who relocated to the Dominican Republic as a teen.
It should go without saying that this a two-edged sword, as the reason many of the top prospects before him did not have a three-peat plus one is that they had established themselves in the major leagues before that point.
On one hand, Reyes is established, but on the other, he is not. He is in the odd position of being just one out short of losing his rookie eligibility despite having made his MLB debut in August 2016. Now 24 years of age, Reyes has actually been among our top seven Cardinals prospects for six years running.
The right-hander was the organization’s co-Pitcher of the Year in 2015 and performed in the Arizona Fall League that year. He was named to the MLB All-Star Futures Game in both 2015 and 2016. In other words, Reyes has been a top prospect for a long time.
Yet because of season-ending injuries in both 2017 (elbow) and 2018 (shoulder), Reyes has accrued over two years of MLB service time. That means he will become arbitration eligible next winter and have just three more seasons after that before becoming eligible for free agency.
But first things first – starting with 2019.
The organization is saying that Reyes is on track to be ready for spring following a season-ending shoulder injury that occurred just four innings into his 2018 St. Louis debut. Reyes was absolutely in the best shape I had ever seen him and had been utterly dominating in his four minor league ramp-up starts, but again had to deal with a major career setback.
His injury was called a “significant strain” to his latissimus dorsi muscle, which attaches to the bone in the back of his right shoulder.
Any time a significant shoulder injury is involved, there is reason for concern.
The most prominent MLB pitcher to have this kind of injury and fully recover is Jake Peavy. The 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner completely tore his lat off the bone in 2010 and underwent a pioneering surgery to reattach it.
After he missed a year, Peavy returned to pitch for six more seasons in the Majors, though not quite at his early-career peak level.
However, Reyes’ injury was not a full tear, as Peavy’s was, creating greater hope that the Cardinal can fully bounce back.
“There was some fraying between the lat, the tendon, and the bone,” general manager Michael Girsch told the Post-Dispatch in early June. “Based on that, he had surgery to reattach the tendon to the bone. The good news is that when they went in, the tendon still was partially frayed, it wasn’t completely torn off, which means there’s good blood flow, which means it’s very optimistic for recovery.”
Even in the best possible scenario, Reyes may not be able to handle a full workload, as was the case in 2018. As a result, the Cardinals could choose to conserve his innings by having him pitch out of the bullpen – though that decision remains in the future. Another factor may be a potentially full rotation backed by a number of other ready candidates pitching without restrictions.
Unless Reyes truly struggles in the spring while remaining healthy, I would not expect him to be optioned out to Memphis. However, a lengthy minor league rehab from St. Louis’ disabled list, again as in 2018, would be a definite possibility at the end of camp if it looks like more time to ramp up is needed.
One thing is for sure, however. Reyes will not be our number one prospect for a fifth time in 2020. His prospect grade falls from “8” or elite talent, to “7”, all-star potential, with his risk of achieving it understandably increasing from “low” to “medium.”
That is the opposite trend of most prospects on the cusp of major league stardom, but Reyes has already shown he is different from the others. Now, he needs to deliver prolonged major league success to finally realize that potential – if his body will cooperate.
Our 2019 top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the 11 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!
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