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Viva El Birdos Cardinals Top Prospects: #1 Alex Reyes

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We finally arrive at the Cardinals top prospect with the makings of a future ace.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: All of our 2016 prospect coverage and write-ups, including individual reports for 22 prospects can be found at the Viva El Birdos 2016 Prospects hub.

#1: Alex Reyes, RHP

Opening Day 2016 Age: 21

2015 Level: High A Palm Beach, Double A Springfield, Arizona Fall League

Relevant Numbers: 113.1 IP, 34.3% K rate, 12.5% BB rate, 84 H, 1.75 FIP (PB), 2.32 FIP (Spr), 3.72 FIP (AFL)

So, what's so great about this guy?

Let me get one thing out of the way before I go any further: I am an Alex Reyes skeptic. And not because of the marijuana suspension, which I do believe reflects a somewhat troubling lack of maturity, even for a player or person as young as Reyes; it's frustrating he couldn't show better decision-making skills, but I have no long-term concerns about Reyes's viability as a pitcher because he likes to get high.

Rather, my concerns about Reyes are centered around his still-glaring lack of command, the delivery, which I don't like and has gotten worse as he has moved up, in my opinion, and a much more nebulous general lack of athleticism, or perhaps a lack of body command, that I worry will always limit his ability to throw strikes. There's something awkward about watching Alex Reyes move his body on the mound, in spite of the fact he's throwing heat that 99% of the pitchers in the big leagues can't really even hope to approach. There are times watching him I'm forcibly reminded of Daniel Cabrera, the huge, overpowering, hopelessly stiff and mechanical Orioles prodigy from the middle of the last decade. Cabrera had crazy velocity and a dominant breaking ball, and yet never could find a way to properly coordinate his frame and stuff in such a way to achieve the results his stuff would suggest should have been possible.

So, you're probably asking yourself, if Aaron is so skeptical of Reyes that he's pulling out the ghost of one of the great pitching disappointments of the mid-2000s to comp him to, then why is Reyes still sitting atop this list, when there is clearly no lack of at least useful, solid talent throughout the rest of the list?

The answer is simple: if Alex Reyes does put it together, to even a moderate degree, there may not be another pitcher on this list who can even come close to matching him. I can make arguments for why I feel other pitchers covered here may very well end up better than Reyes. I can not, however, make an argument for anyone else in the system having a higher ceiling.

The stuff Reyes brings to the mound is borderline unfair, with a fastball that sat comfortably at 94-97 this year, and touched triple digits nearly every time out. The heater is most effective when it's up, either at the top of the zone or up out of it, where hitters have virtually no shot at catching up. And as good as the fastball is, there are days when Reyes's curve is just as good, with true 12-to-6 break, nose to toes as the old saying goes, giving him two 70 grade pitches with which to attack hitters unfortunate enough to step into the box against him. I prefer the overall package of pitches Carlos Martinez offers, as I think El Gallo's sinker-changeup combo in particular, along with the overall depth of stuff he can throw, has the potential to carry him to multiple Cy Young awards, but if you want a simple, impressively overpowering one-two punch, Reyes's four-seamer and curveball might represent the most dynamic combination in the Cardinal organisation.

Beyond the fastball and curve, Reyes throws a changeup that shows average potential, but isn't there yet. He currently tends to telegraph the pitch by slowing his arm, but there is decent sink and fade to the pitch, making it a potentially very useful offering even if it doesn't improve all that much. If he can learn to sell it better and push it up to an average grade, the sky really could be the limit.

The downside with Reyes, of course, is the simple fact he struggles to throw strikes. He not only walks far too many hitters, he's also tremendously inefficient even when he's getting outs. Deep counts to hitters and high pitch counts in games are the order of the day all too often, forcing him out of games earlier than the boxscore would suggest and leading to long innings that can occasionally blow up in his face. In short, despite Reyes having already reached Double A -- doing so before his 21st birthday, in fact -- there is what feels like a developmental gulf between where he is and where he likely needs to be before he's ready to take on major league hitters.

And yet, it remains undeniable that Reyes has the potential to dominate. Not just survive, not just succeed, not just thrive, but dominate. The fact he has reached Double A at such a young age, with that gulf of development still ahead of him, is a testament to that potential.

That's why, in spite of my skepticism toward him, I cannot in good conscience put any other player in the Cardinal system currently ahead of Reyes. Of all the pitching prospects in the minors right now, I'd say only Lucas Giolito has clearly better stuff, and it's close. Julio Urias of the Dodgers has a wider repertoire and better feel, but I'd take Reyes's one-two punch over anyone but Giolito, I think.

The 50 game suspension puts Reyes in a strange position coming into the 2016 season. Ten games of that 50 was already served as part of the Arizona Fall League season, and so he'll be back sometime around the end of May, most likely, or perhaps early June. The numbers he put up in Springfield would suggest he be fast-tracked, but I suspect the Cardinals will be very wary of pushing him too much. That being said, the club will have decisions to make about their pitching after the 2016 season, and it would be helpful to have more of an idea how close Reyes really is to being a legitimate part of that future sooner than later. Barring injury, I have to believe he'll see St. Louis at some point late in the season, if only as a September bullpen callup.

It's strange, honestly, to have a prospect with such boom or bust potential sitting at the top of this system. One would think the strikeout numbers alone would give Reyes a much higher floor than most other pitching prospects, but the control issues, not to mention the fact he missed time in 2015 with shoulder soreness, keeps his future looking much cloudier than it might otherwise.

Player Comp: if things come together for Reyes, Justin Verlander is a possibility, as a high-octane fireballer with a dominant curve to complement the heat, and enough feel to locate his overpowering stuff. On the bad side, though, that Daniel Cabrera comp keeps popping up in my head, as a pitcher who lacked the body control to repeat his mechanics, throw strikes, and perform to the level the unbelievable talent in his arm would suggest should have been possible.

via MiLB.com:

and via RogerDeanStadiumTV: