Heading into the start of 2016, Major League Baseball’s prospect pool was ripe with talent. It was a who’s who of players whom are currently taking the big leagues by storm. Rafael Devers, Alex Bregman, Josh Bell, Aaron Judge, Ozzie Albies, Corey Seager, and Andrew Benintendi were just a few names on that list. One talent, however, seemed to stand out above the rest. That prospect? A 21-year-old native of Elizabeth, New Jersey by the name of Alex Reyes. When you took one look at him on the field, it was easy to see why he stood out.
Reyes’ Rare Skills Stand Out
The first thing about Alex Reyes that jumps out is his 6’4 frame, which had room for growth. Then, you watched him pitch and it was a sight to behold. Reyes had the stuff that made your eyes water. He was far from just a typical one trick pony with eye popping velocity. Reyes also featured a curveball that was borderline frightening, and a plus changeup. There was so much to like about him, and at the ripe young age of 21, the future was beyond bright. He truly looked like he could be a dominant, All-Star caliber pitcher for years to come.
On the field, he was coming off a season where he was named the one of the St. Louis Cardinals’ co-Minor Leaguers of the Year (along with Austin Gomber). Coming into the following season, expectations for Reyes were sky high. There was plenty of belief that his ceiling was as high as any player in the minors.
In an article on MLB.com when voting for the best pitching prospect, Reyes ran away with the votes, with one pro scouting director quoting “I don’t even know who else is a candidate.”
First Call Up Leads to Big Hype
Reyes’ immense potential was very much on display in 2016. While the season started out with a 50 game suspension due to a drug suspension (marijuana), he bounced back. Promising to grow as a person from this, he took his talents to Memphis. While there, he flashed the dominant stuff that made him a top prospect. In 14 starts for the Redbirds, he averaged an eye popping a 12.8 strikeouts per 9 innings ratio, and 93 strikeouts overall.
The Cardinals decided they liked what they saw, and gave him his first call to the big where he shined. In 12 outings (46 innings pitched), Reyes notched a 1.57 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and struck out 52 in five starts, and seven more appearances out of the bullpen.
This sampling was one that had all the baseball fans, pundits and experts on the edge of their seats. It had Cardinal fans believing that the hype was real, and excited for the next chapter.
First Signs of Trouble
Following his impressive sampling of dominance at Busch Stadium in 2016, the belief was Reyes was ready for that next step. Unfortunately, the last three seasons have seen him hit one roadblock after another.
The problems began on February 14, 2017. For Cardinal fans, Valentine’s Day didn’t bring about too much love and good tidings when Reyes was diagnosed with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. The next day, it was announced he would be getting Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2017 campaign.
Yet, we have seen other pitchers return better than ever after getting the surgery. Many felt this was just a small side path in what was going to be a long, exciting career.
The Sequel Wasn’t That Great
After missing all of 2017, Reyes began rehabbing in the minors. Things could not have gone better for him, and it looked like he hadn’t lost a step. In four total outings, he pitched 23 innings, where he gave up no earned runs, allowed just seven hits and struck out 44 batters.
He also set two records. While pitching for Springfield, he set a team record for most strikeouts in a game (13). With Memphis, he became the first pitcher in the 115-year history of the Pacific Coast League to strikeout nine straight batters, in consecutive order.
The performances were truly a sight to behold. Seeing such a talented player come off a season ending surgery like Tommy John and pitch at a high level gave the highest of hopes.
This dominance made the brass in St. Louis believe he was fully ready for a return to the friendly confines of Busch Stadium. On May 30th, he was officially activated from the 60-Day Injured List.
48 hours, and one four-inning start later, he was right back on the IL. Less than a week later, June 6th, it was announced he would be getting surgery for a torn tendon in the lat and would miss the remainder of the season.
With two straight seasons of valued development lost, the Cardinals decided to take the slow road with their prized phenom to kick off 2019. While he began the season in the bigs, the team put him in the bullpen.
Things did not go as hoped for either side. In four games, Reyes got rocked to the tune of a 15.00 ERA, a 2.67 WHIP, and walked six in just three innings pitched.
The Cardinals decided that perhaps he needed to shake some rust and elected to send him down to Memphis. He had ten games in Memphis, where he had a 7.39 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP.
Then, in what can only be described as Groundhog Day meets Major League Baseball, on June 23rd, Reyes left his start in the second inning due to an injury.
Two days later, it was announced that Reyes would yet again be heading to the IL with a strained pectoral muscle. At of the time of this article, Reyes is still not in throwing mode, and there is quite a bit of speculation that he won’t pitch again in 2019.
A third lost season would be a kick to the groin for the Cardinal organization. The talent is clearly there, but the injury red flags cannot be ignored.
After 2019, Reyes’ arbitration years kick in and he will have three more years of team control and affordability becomes a question, as well as security for the player. While there has been plenty of glimpses of what he has capable of, there also is now a shadow over his future with the organization.
Future in Question?
Alex Reyes has worked hard to overcome his injuries. There is no doubt that he wants to be out there more than anything. He has an incredible work ethic and passion for the game. Yet, it’s all about the next man up in sports and there is a business to be run. Promise quickly becomes pessimism when results aren’t seen.
The Cardinals seem to be very optimistic about him still. In interviews, they praise his skills and professionalism. Thus, he should be back with the team in 2020. By all accounts, the team still has the same hopeful outlook that they have had for him since 2016. They have invested way too much time in him to not give him another chance to show what he’s got. Truthfully, he has worked too hard to not merit one more chance. Alex Reyes is also fairly young and turns 25 this year.
Yet, make no mistake, 2020 is a critical year for him. If next season doesn’t feature a major step forward, or he is lost to injury again, the Cardinals just may move on.
Unfortunately, the business side of baseball is often a cruel and cutthroat one. Potential, upside, and flashes will only get you so far. In business, there is one bottom line, and that is results. So far, the results just haven’t come. The reality is, until you become an established commodity in sports, you are on a clock. For Alex Reyes, that clock is ticking and rather quickly.
Author Twitter: @DuckyMedwick7
Come discuss this and much more at the Overtime Heroics forums!