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Viva El Birdos 2017 Cardinals Top Prospects: #1 Alex Reyes

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Bummer

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: the red baron has once again written up a very large number of prospects, done a great job on them, and combined them in just a few posts. You can read those posts, including a dozen reports on players who just missed the list by going here. This post contains a write-up of just a single prospect in a perhaps easier to digest form.-CE

Second Editor’s Note: This one was written before Reyes was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery though most of it still holds up. He’s still got a ton of potential and hopefully we will see him again in 2018.

#1: Alex Reyes, RHP

6’3”, 225 lbs; R/R; 29 August 1994

Relevant Stats: 32% K, 11% BB (Memphis), 27.5% K, 12.2% BB (St. Louis)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I know, a real shocker here at number one. In what can only be described as a sun-rising-in-the-East surprise, Alex Reyes tops our prospect list (and every other prospect list), for the second year in a row.

It’s really kind of a strange list this year; as I said earlier, the closer I got to the top the less I had to say. That was especially true because three of the Cardinals’ four top prospects have already appeared at the major league level, and while Carson Kelly has plenty of reasons to be back in the minors, both Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes look pretty darned ready to take on the challenge of the big leagues.

We all know the story with Reyes. He throws ungodly hard. He tops out in triple digits, and the fastball is anywhere between a 70 and 80 depending on who you ask. Personally, I’ll split the difference and call it a 75. He has a wicked hook that he still struggles to command, but is an easy 65 pitch when it’s on. The changeup has developed all out of measure with what I expected, and is now another 60-65 on his card. And as my colleague Joe Schwarz recently wrote, Reyes began throwing a slider late in the year that appears to be fairly decent in its own right.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what top of the rotation talent looks like.

It’s easy to dream on Reyes sitting at the top of the Cards’ rotation for years to come, co-ace with Carlos Martinez, dominating the National League and moving the Redbirds right back into the prominence they enjoyed as recently as 2015. The two hurdles to that dream? Health and command.

I’m going to level with you: Reyes’s arm action scares the bejesus out of me. Partially because it’s scary, but also partially because I would feel like we were all being actually cheated if we had to watch his career sputter because of injuries. The earlier version of Reyes, that was much more energetic in his delivery and strode out further, had better timing, while the new version with the short stride and toned-down delivery is much more delayed in his arm coming through. I think that’s actually why his velocity jumped a couple years ago, which is obviously exciting, but I worry his arm is going to break down because of it. I’ll just cross my fingers and hope I’m wrong, or hope that the new techniques teams are employing to try and keep pitcher’s arms healthy will pay dividends for Reyes.

The other potential stumbling block for Reyes is a simpler question, that of throwing enough strikes to be successful at the big league level. Even when he was giving Cardinal Nation the collective vapours last autumn, Reyes was walking four and a half batters per nine innings. Of course, when you’re striking out ~30% of batters you face, you can get away with that, but it’s still less than ideal. Beyond the obvious concerns of allowing free passes and giving up runs, Reyes has been very inefficient throughout his career, leading to low innings totals and short outings more often than not. If he’s going to be that ace-level pitcher, the Cardinals need him to get into the seventh inning, instead of being gassed after four and two thirds with a pitch count of 98.

Alex Reyes is as talented a pitcher as we’ve seen in a Cardinal uniform in the last fifteen years. He’s as talented as Carlos, as talented as Rick Ankiel. Alex Reyes has the potential to be something truly special.

Hopefully this is the last time he shows up on this list.

Player Comp: As I was reminded in the comments, I initially forgot to put in a comp for Reyes. Justin Verlander is the pitcher I most come back to thinking about Reyes; similar high-octane fastball, similar waterfall curveball, and both with surprising changeups that function as real weapons. Of course, the best thing about Verlander has arguably been his durability, so fingers crossed Reyes can enjoy even a reasonable facsimile of that good health.

via MLB: