It’s not often you see a native of the U.S., much less New Jersey, signed in the international period, but that’s what took place when Alex Reyes left the states for the Dominican Republic. The Cardinals signed him for just under $1 million ($950,000) in December of 2012 and threw him right into Short-Season ball as an 18-year-old. It’s an aggressive assignment not to go through any complex leagues, but his familiarity with the U.S. likely played a part in their willingness to push him. Reyes started 2014 in Low-A, where he’s just under three years younger than the average player for the level, noteworthy because even if the production is mild, it would be considered a success based on his age relative to the level.
Reyes has received praise in the prospect community, and attention from dynasty leaguers thanks to a precocious skillset. That skillset remains unrefined though, and that bears itself out in the numbers. A 3.39 ERA is plenty to write home about from an 18 year old in Short-Season ball, but it’s worth nothing that along with his head-turning 27 percent strikeout rate, he produced an elevated 11 percent walk rate. Where he truly shined though is in limiting the long ball, as he allowed only one home run in 58 1/3 innings.
Those 58 1/3 innings came in 12 starts, as the Cardinals were careful not to overextend Reyes, limiting him to under five innings per start—though he was able to complete the fifth inning in eight of 12 attempts. Reyes has taken one step forward and one step back in 2014, kicking his strikeout rate up by 1.5 percentage points but watching his walk rate increase by five, in kind. That’s partially expected given the jump in competition, but it’s not like Low-A players suddenly have Shin-Soo Choo’s plate discipline either. He’s already allowed four home runs in 11 fewer innings as well, highlighting either (or both) the change in talent between Short-Season and Low-A, where hitters will punish mistakes in grander fashion, or perhaps the presence of additional mistakes. It might seem to be the former more than the latter, though, as Reyes is giving up fewer hits on a rate basis than he was last season.
We’re fortunate enough to have had BP Prospect team member Jordan Gorosh put eyes on him, writing him up for a Monday Morning Ten Pack a couple weeks ago. Reyes is listed at 6-foot-3, and while he’s listed at 185 pounds, he’s certainly heavier than that now. He’s able to use his height well, generating a ton of plane, which explains his previous success in limiting home runs. He’s thick throughout the lower half, with a rear end that would earn praise from Sir-Mix-a-Lot. He does well to use his lower half in his delivery, using it as a fulcrum to get over top of the ball and generate that excellent plane.
Reyes sports a fastball that arrives anywhere from 92-96 MPH, occasionally touching 97 and features a healthy amount of armside run. The plane and run are great aspects to the fastball and reasons the grade on the pitch is so high, but the downside is that, at his tender age, he has little to no command of the pitch. Reyes complements the fastball with a curveball that presents itself in two ways: first as a slower offering (75-76 MPH) with added horizontal break, and second a slightly harder version (78-80) with more vertical action. It’s not known if this is an intentional distinction between the pitches or something that manifests itself due to the development of the pitch, but both missed bats with enough frequency to be effective. His last offering is a changeup that registers in the low-to-mid-80s with fade to the arm side.
He is able to generate swings and misses with all three offerings, but his primary hurdle is cutting down the the free passes. Reyes’ inconsistent mechanics may well be the cause behind his problems staying in the zone. This isn’t a rare conundrum for a 6-foot-3 19-year-old who is still growing into his body. His landing point can vary pitch-to-pitch, affecting his arm slot which makes it hard to know where the ball is going. While we tend to note the late-arriving comfortability with their bodies from taller pitchers (think Alex Meyer), it’s worth noting that the same can happen to their shorter (though not short in this case) brethren, and it appears to be at least a factor in Reyes’ case. He’s got some feel for pitching (read: sequencing) but it’s hard to discern his feel for his pitches at this point. The inconsistency of his mechanics makes it hard to know if he doesn’t have feel for his pitches or if the ever-changing arm slot is to blame. It could be some of both.
The risk factor on a pitcher like Reyes is massive. He’s extremely young, with a long developmental journey ahead of him, yet the reward is equally as large. He’s not likely to be an ace, but to have a pitcher as young as he is even flash the quality of pitches that he has is something of a rarity. Ironing out his mechanics will be his biggest step, because he’s got a fastball good enough to miss bats, much less pitch off of, and if he can learn to locate it, the other pieces should fall in line. While his ceiling is that of a number two starter which would play up in fantasy due to his bat missing tendencies, his realistic outcome is more of a mid-rotation starter, with those same tendencies allowing him to play up. We can’t ignore the possibility, however small, that his lack of control lands him in the bullpen, where he could still hold value in the fantasy realm. With 2017 as a reasonable ETA, Reyes makes for a nice long-term asset in dynasty leagues, but the value proposition isn’t as good on him as you may want it to be. In deeper leagues there are surer things that hold more value thanks to their much higher floors (think Chi Chi Gonzalez or Braden Shipley), whereas someone like Reyes is the preferred option in 10-12-team leagues, where impact reigns supreme.
A huge thanks to Jordan Gorosh for his first-hand insight and assistance with this piece.