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Thanks to an improved changeup, St. Louis Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes harnessed fastball command

After an exceptional second half with the Low-A Peoria Chiefs, Alex Reyes says his "arm is feeling great" as he prepares for the 2015 season.

Dennis Sievers/Peoria Chiefs

While it is true that the farm system of the St. Louis Cardinals is lacking some of its usual fire power (largely due to prospects graduating to the big leagues), this certainly does not apply to Alex Reyes, a 6'3" 20-year-old starting pitcher with the potential of three plus pitches. After a solid year with Peoria (see statistics below), Reyes found his name climbing 2015 top prospect lists as his pre-signing expectations became one step closer to reality. According to Baseball Prospectus, Reyes is the #55 prospect in baseball (up from #98 last season), and ESPN's Keith Law ranks him #77 (up from a "sleeper" rank in 2014).

21 109.1 29.5% 13.1% 66.9% 3.62 3.45

Viva El Birdos: First and foremost, what was it like throwing a bullpen to big-league manager Mike Matheny a week or so ago?

Alex Reyes: It was awesome. It is definitely something I never expected to happen. It’s always an honor to have someone with so much experience willing to work with you. The fact that he got down there with just a mask on shows how much confidence he has in everybody, not only big leaguers.

VEB: What did your offseason throwing program entail?

AR: Our offseason throwing program was given to us the day we left instructs. I did a lot of long toss down in the Dominican, and once I came to Florida, I started throwing sides. I started live batting practice in late January.

VEB: What's the best piece of advice you received from pitching coach Jason Simontacchi last season?

AR: Working with Simo was great for me last year. He helped me in all different types of ways. One that I will always carry with me was when we talked about creating a routine that makes me comfortable at all times.

VEB: Given a choice of adding one pitch to your current arsenal, would you rather have Adam Wainwright's curveball or Michael Wacha's changeup?

AR: This is a tough one, but I would have to go with Wacha's changeup.

VEB: Which secondary offering (breaking ball or changeup) do you feel is more effective for you?

AR: As the season progressed, I feel my changeup was more effective, and it helped me get hitters off my fastball. It also helped me get down in the zone with my fastball.

Editor’s note: When asked further about his second-half improvement last season (strikeouts went up, walks went down, and ERA plummeted), this is what he pointed to as the main reason. He stated that Simontacchi helped him "a ton" with his changeup which not only gave him another effective pitch in his arsenal but that it also led to the ability to harness his electric fastball down in the zone.

VEB: Do you have a specific list of goals for 2015? What is #1 on the list?

AR: My number one goal every year is to stay healthy, but besides that is to command all three of my pitches.

VEB: Describe your typical routine on a day that you are scheduled to start.

AR: If it is a 7:00 PM game, I usually wake up around 10:30 AM, take a long shower, and reflect on my last start to remember what got me into or out of trouble. I get to the field around 3:30 and just listen to music. Then, when the guys come in from BP, I talk to my catchers to see what plan we can come up with. At 6:00, I go into the training room for some light stretching. Finally, at 6:30, I start to get loose.

VEB: What is the meal you ate the most during last season?

AR: It would have to be a chicken bowl with guacamole from Chipotle.

VEB: What was the biggest adjustment you had to make going from Johnson City to Peoria?

AR: The biggest adjustment for me has been to mentally prepare myself and to build a weekly routine.

VEB: How much (if at all) do you rely on hitter scouting reports when preparing for a start?

AR: In Peoria, we only had scouting reports on some hitters, but Simo always preached to us to pitch to our strengths and not to a hitter’s weakness.

VEB: Who were your favorite ballplayers growing up?

AR: Robinson Cano and Pedro Martinez.

VEB: What is it like being away from New Jersey for most of the year? How much do you miss it?

AR: You know it’s always tough to leave where you came from and your family behind, but this is a game that requires a lot of sacrifices.

VEB: Do you pay attention to top prospect rankings to see how outsiders view you and your progress as a professional?

AR: I definitely see it but just because it comes up on my Twitter feed, but it’s not something I try and think of too much. At the end of the day, my goal is to be a big leaguer, not to be on a top prospect list.

All of us at Viva El Birdos are grateful for the time Reyes took in answering these questions, including follow-up's after the fact, and we look forward to tracking his progress to the big leagues. He will likely start the season with High-A Palm Beach, but I suspect he will be challenged by the organization should he experience consistent success at that level.

In case you missed it, I had a Q&A with Reyes prior to last season as well. You can follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexReyes_67.