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Alex Reyes' role on the 2016 Cardinals

In what way, if any, will Alex Reyes contribute to the big league club this year?

On Saturday, I wrote about the Cardinals' bullpen and my assessment that they would probably bounce back, and probably be upgraded at the deadline. Alex Reyes is a short-term consideration for the bullpen, but I only mentioned him once, when declining to include him along with Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich as possible options from Memphis to upgrade the big league pen. That was because that article was already over 1,100 words without considering Reyes, and his situation is very complex. So complex in fact, to warrant it's own article. To start, here's his numbers at Triple-A since returning from suspension:

This is more or less what we've come to expect from Reyes: absolutely amazing stuff that racks up the strikeouts, but a severe lack of command that racks up walks. It's too bad that he missed so much of the season, as there's not all that much we can analyze from 31 innings. It's a short sample, but it's also not all that different from the sample of the rest of his minor league career. At his current rate, Reyes wouldn't be much of an upgrade over the other options, let alone if we make his numbers a little worse from jumping from Triple-A to the majors. He needs to make a bit of progress in that area for him to make him an enticing late inning option.

In the recent past, three Cardinals Right-handed pitching prospects have gone from the Memphis rotation to the St. Louis bullpen. Let's look at how those players transitioned:

Shelby Miller had a pretty lousy FIP at Triple-A in 2012, but that was mostly just a homer problem, and likely just noise. These three mostly either retained their level of performance or improved upon it when moving to the pen Perhaps Reyes wouldn't see that big of a downgrade in his numbers. Still, you'd like to see him improve upon those numbers before he takes a major league mound.

Reyes may never end up being a consideration for bullpen spot if he ends up being needed for the rotation. I know, there's no opening there right now. However, pitchers get hurt a whole lot, and if just one of the Cardinals' starting pitchers get hurts, it will instantly create a hole. Here's Alex Reyes' stats again, but this time grouped with his rotation mates in Memphis (the other A. Reyes is on the DL, but through googling I was not able to find why):

*I am writing this Saturday night, as I will be very busy Sunday and Monday. Thus, by the time you read this, these stats will no longer be up to date. However, unless an injury occurs, it shouldn't change the conclusion*

Despite Reyes' issues, he's still been the Redbirds' best pitcher, though the recently promoted Mike Mayers offers some competition. The Cards' pen offers two possible starters, but Tyler Lyons has had a rough year so far and Matthew Bowman is currently one of the few bright spots in the pen, while also not exactly dominating to a level that makes you want him to start instead. In the event of a injury to the Cardinals' rotation, currently Lyons, Bowman, and Mayers are probably all better bets to make a spot start or two. That's not because the front office considers them better pitchers, just that they probably don't want to disrupt Reyes' development when he's still showing command issues against Triple-A hitters. The same logic led the Cardinals to calling up John Gast and Tyler Lyons before Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha in 2013. There is one other dark horse for a call-up, though he probably needs to keep his performance up a bit longer to be in consideration:

Weaver is definitely a dark horse as he's only thrown 26 innings above A-ball, but boy have they been fantastic. After returning from a wrist injury (don't worry, it was his glove hand), and after making what is considered the biggest jump in the minors, Weaver has been nothing but impressive. We'll get an idea from what the Cardinals think by how quickly he moves to Triple-A. Once he's promoted, I think he immediately jumps to the front of the line in terms of replacing an injured starting pitcher. That's assuming Reyes hasn't improved his command by then and Tim Cooney still hasn't started pitching in games. This is all hypothetical for the moment, as there hasn't been any (known) injuries to any Cardinals starters with the exception of a little thing with El Gallo which led his spot in the rotation being moved back a few days. However, it's also fairly likely the team will need someone besides the opening day starters to start a game at some point: the Cardinals and Cubs are the only teams in baseball to have used exactly five starting pitchers this season. On average, each MLB team has used nearly 8 starters, and we're not even to the All-Star Break.

The Cardinals might feel Reyes is simply going to have to get his walks under control before making more than an emergency spot start or two. He's more likely to hide the walk problem in the bullpen, as the high pitch counts could make it difficult for him to get through anything more than five innings as a starter. The problem with Reyes being in the bullpen is that it will necessarily cut into his innings total and his development, two things the Cardinals are likely to take very seriously with a top prospect that they think will eventually take a permanent role in the rotation.

However,  the minor league season ends around the beginning of September. If the Cardinals wanted to, they could promote him around the time MLB rosters expand in September. That would give Reyes an audition of sorts against major league hitters that wouldn't cut into his development time in Memphis. To contribute in the postseason, he'd have to be on the 40-man roster before August 31st, but not necessarily the 25 man, like it was in the past. Afterwards, Reyes could accumulate more innings in a Winter League, like Carlos has done in years past in the Dominican Republic.

The trade-off that comes with that though, is one year of service time. If the Cardinals wait at least a couple of weeks into the 2017 season, rather than around September 2016, the Cardinals will have one more year of control of Reyes, the 2023 season (for a good explanation on service time rules, and how teams often manipulate them, check here). Reyes will need to look really good (and the bullpen or rotation really bad) in order to forfeit that year. Of course, pitchers have a higher attrition rate than their position player counterparts, and he won't necessarily be in baseball and healthy in 2023, so you have to discount that year a bit when we're this far away.

At 12.1%, Reyes is currently walking Triple-A hitters at a higher rate than MLB pitchers are walking Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is having a down year but he still ranks 22nd out of 169 qualified hitters in BB% at 11.9% in 2016. Pitchers can have more sudden shifts in development, and perhaps something clicks with Reyes here soon to bring the walks down. With every game being critically important towards making the Wild Card game, using Reyes as a late inning reliever is an intriguing option, but he's simply not there yet. If he can improve in-between now and some future opening, it may be worth burning a year of control. If not, it might be best to leave him at Triple-A, and plan on him making his debut sometime in 2017, when he's more of a finished product and more likely to take on a more permanent role in the rotation. Both Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia are currently not controllable in 2018, so there's certainly an opening in the 2018 Opening Day rotation.

One thing's for sure: nothing is certain. Reyes' 2016 could play out a number of ways, and as fans, we'll just have to watch and see what happens.