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On Rick Ankiel, Carlos Martinez, and now Alex Reyes

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The Cardinals have been fortunate to develop premium starting pitching over the years. Alex Reyes projects to continue this trend.

Dennis Sievers/Peoria Chiefs

With the undisputed top organizational prospect Alex Reyes set to return from suspension by the end of this month, let's take a closer look at how the 21-year-old flame-throwing righty compares to two other Cardinals pitchers who were once nationally-regarded prospects themselves. I must note that the motivation behind putting together such an article stemmed from Steven McNeil's article on Reyes and "Blogger Day" over at Fansided's Redbird Rants.

Four days ago, the Cardinals hosted their annual "Blogger Day," an event in which Cardinal bloggers from throughout the Midwest are invited to Busch Stadium and given the opportunity to ask John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt III questions prior to attending the afternoon game in an all-inclusive suite. I have been given the privilege to attend this event in each of the last two years but unfortunately had a prior commitment (marriage prep. class) this time around.

As detailed in McNeil's article among others, during the Q&A session before the game, one of the bloggers predictably (and rightfully) asked about Reyes, and as you'd expect from an executive within the organization, Mozeliak praised the 6'3" righty, calling him "absolutely one of the top two pitching prospects that has come through the Cardinals' system" during his time with the club. The other pitching prospect Mozeliak was referring to in his answer? While Carlos Martinez may be the more recent answer for some Cardinals fans, Mozeliak was speaking of Rick Ankiel, "the kid with the golden arm" or "the best young pitcher in the country" (quotes via Buzz Bissinger's Three Nights in August; read this book in its entirety if you haven't already).

Let's first take a look at how each pitcher was acquired and where each ranked as a prospect (both organizationally and nationally):

Player Rick Ankiel Carlos Martinez Alex Reyes
How Acquired 2nd round MLB Draft (1997) Signed as Int'l FA (2010) Signed as Int'l FA (2012)
Money Required $2.5 million $1.5 million $950,000
Top Organizational Rank (Baseball America) #1 (2000) #2 (2014) #1 (2016)
Top National Rank (Baseball America) #1 (2000) #31 (2014) #7 (2016)
MLB Debut 1999 2013 TBD

While his pitching career did not necessarily go as planned (despite a tremendous rookie campaign in 2000), it cannot be denied that Ankiel carried the most national notoriety of the three pitching prospects included in this discussion. Being named the number one prospect within an organization is already a laudable accomplishment, but carrying the number one prospect rank in all of baseball is significantly more impressive. Now, to be fair to both Martinez and Reyes, with increased use of data and projection systems readily available, prospect analysis is much more complex now than it was back then, but still, it is abundantly clear that Ankiel was the cream of the Y2K prospect crop.

As a prospect, Martinez understandably could not shake Oscar Taveras from the top spot within the organization and clearly did not receive nearly as much national recognition as Ankiel (or Reyes for that matter). Yet, after two middling years as a relief pitcher, Martinez finally began to exhibit his true potential last season as a full member of the starting rotation. Thus, should Martinez have retained prospect status for one more season (instead of being called up to be a part of the Cardinals bullpen), there is a good chance he would have cracked the top ten nationally. Regardless of prospect rank, though, the Cardinals must be pleased with their original $1.5 million investment in the 24-year-old pitcher who already has one All-Star Game selection on his resume.

Finally, we arrive at Reyes, who gains his high prospect status largely from his 80-grade fourseam fastball. The radar gun at Hammons Field (Double-A Springfield Cardinals) may be notoriously "hot," but frankly, it doesn't really matter considering neutral scouts regularly clock Reyes' fastball as sitting in the 95-97 MPH range. What's unique about Springfield's radar gun is that it is incapable of showing triple digits, so you better believe Reyes opened many eyes and dropped numerous jaws when "02" consistently flashed after his fastballs (meaning 102 MPH). While Reyes' fourseamer is undoubtedly his top pitch, his 12-6 curveball is "unsuitable for some audiences," and should he be able to harness it for use in any count, he will cause big league hitters fits.

Frankly, what's most impressive about Reyes' #7 national rank (per Baseball America) is that he finds his name that high on the list despite not putting it all together just yet. He understands that command is the last major hurdle between where he is now (a top prospect) and where he wants to be (a major league contributor). Command is something Reyes worked on tirelessly throughout the offseason and during his suspension, and from what I have been told, "it's a lot better." I expect Reyes to make some noise once he is activated later this month.

Minor League Statistics (Via Baseball-Reference.com)

Player G GS IP K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA
Ankiel 95 85 468.2 12.8 3.8 1.069 2.80
Martinez 70 69 338.0 9.2 3.2 1.139 2.61
Reyes 55 55 268.2 11.9 4.6 1.280 3.15

Along with prospect rankings, Ankiel led the way in minor league statistics as well, posting a ridiculous rate of 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Martinez possessed the best ERA and surprisingly, best walk rate as well. The only thing holding Reyes back from Ankiel and Martinez is his walk rate, an issue that hopefully gets resolved sooner rather than later, especially considering he projects as a starting pitcher.

Bottom Line

With recognition comes expectations, and with a not-as-deep-as-originally-planned MLB starting rotation, expectations have never been higher for the 21-year-old Reyes. The Cardinals have been fortunate to develop a handful of premium pitching prospects over the last twenty or so years. Ideally, Reyes is just another railcar in the middle of a long train rather than the caboose, with Luke WeaverAustin GomberJack FlahertyJake WoodfordJunior Fernandez, and Sandy Alcantara all hoping to break out at some point down the track. That being said, we should enjoy Reyes while we can because one must never forget that "there's no such thing as a pitching prospect" (TNSTAAPP).

Finally, I will leave you with a fun comparison: envision the beauty (and heaviness) of a Lance Lynn fourseamer (a pitch that is so effective he can use it almost exclusively in certain starts), add three to five miles per hour to it, and you have an Alex Reyes' fourseamer. Sequence that fourseamer with a true breaking ball and a developing, but potentially plus changeup (two pitches Lynn does not have) and you have an ability that does not come around very frequently.