There might not be a player on the Cardinals roster whose range of outcomes varies more than Alex Reyes.
In 2015, the one-time elite pitching prospect surged all the way to AA as a 20-year-old, finishing there with a 2.31 FIP and a combined 13.4 K/9. A failed drug test stole the first half of 2016 from Reyes, but the Cardinals continued his aggressive promotions. Though he was plagued with control issues at Memphis, he earned a late-season promotion to St. Louis and flashed the brilliance that has ghosted him ever since. In 46 MLB innings spread between the rotation and pen, Reyes produced a 1.57 ERA and 1.3 fWAR. The Cardinals believed they had a future ace.
That was probably the peak of Reyes’ career. In February of 2017, Reyes had Tommy John surgery. He attempted a return in May 2018. 73 pitches into his first start, Reyes was forced to exit the game with a lat strain. He wouldn’t pitch again that season.
With two seasons lost, Reyes came to camp in 2019 finally healthy and the club expected the still-young hurler to carve out space on the roster. Instead, Reyes managed only 3 MLB innings, walking 6 and allowing 5 runs. He was demoted, broke his pinkie in AAA, and only threw 40.1 innings last year combined.
Here we are again. The Cardinals remain intrigued by his raw stuff, but the now 25-year-old has not been able to shake questions about his health, reliability, and control. The following videos help explain why so much excitement persists around Reyes, despite his volatile career. His stuff is absolutely filthy. These feature his fastball and off-speed pitches from his breakout 2016 season:
The problem, of course, is that Reyes never really knows where any of his pitches are going. Last year, in 28 AAA innings, Reyes’ walk rate was 7.71 BB/9 innings. His lowest BB rate at any long stop in the minors was 4.32 and that came all the way back in rookie ball.
What should the Cardinals expect from his 2020 season? This amazing arm talent and high expectations mixed with injury questions, lack of recent innings, and control issues make the range of possible outcomes for Reyes impossibly wide. He is currently competing for the 5th rotation spot in Miles Mikolas’ absence. Beat writers, such as Derrick Goold, have affirmed that the club sees him as a leading candidate for the open closer role. Reyes could also find himself back in AAA building up innings for a possible return to the majors as a starter in 2021. Or walks or health problems could derail another season. No one really has any idea what Reyes’ season will look like.
Because of his volatility, his stats from last season and his current projections are next to worthless. Let’s look at them anyway.
2019 MLB statistics: 3 IP, 5 G (0 GS), 15.00 ERA, 12.88 FIP, 3.00 K/9, 18.00 BB/9, -.3 fWAR
2019 AAA statistics: 28 IP, 10 G (7 GS), 7.39 ERA, 6.08 FIP, 12.21 K/9, 7.71 BB/9.
2020 ZiPS projections: 49.3 IP, 15 G (10 GS), 4.74 ERA, 4.88 FIP, 10.03 K/9, 6.57 BB/9, .3 fWAR
2020 Depth Charts projections: 44 IP, 37 G (2 GS), 4.17 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 10.45 K/9, 4.91 BB/9, .1 fWAR
What will happen with Reyes in 2020? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing remains certain: the club will remain committed to Reyes’ development until he either makes it or runs out of options. The arm talent is too great for them to do anything else.