The Situation: Barring a 1995 Mariners-esque comeback, the Cardinals are not going to catch the Cubs. They’re right in the thick of the wild-card race despite some so-so starting pitching, however, and they’re going to call on Alex Reyes to see if he can be part of the solution.
Background: Similar to what Lucius Fox did last June, Reyes “defected” from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic in 2012, and the Cardinals were able to sign him $950,000 that December. After impressing the next summer in the Appy League, Reyes struck out 137 batters in 109 innings for Low-A Peoria in 2014 , and quickly became one of the most intriguing right-handed pitching prospects in baseball. That stock went up substantially in 2015 after dominating in the Florida State League, and he more than held his own as a 20-year-old in Double-A later in the year. He was throwing well in the Arizona Fall League, but then a marijuana suspension not only cut his AFL stay short, but caused him to miss the first couple months of the 2016 season. Pitching in the treacherous PCL, he’s posted a 4.96 ERA, but he’s also struck out 93 hitters in just over 65 innings, and the Cardinals believe he’s ready to contribute.
Scouting Report: Alex Reyes throws really, really hard. His pure arm strength is immense, and he will consistently get his fastball into the high 90s. The pitch isn’t straight, either, which makes it an 80 pitch. It’s always nice to start with an 80 pitch.
On top of the elite fastball, Reyes has some fun secondary weapons to play with, too. The curveball is a true swing-and-miss pitch when he has feel for it (more on that in a little bit), and it’s hard spin and depth makes it a real bummer for both left and right-handed hitters. He’s made tremendous strides with his change, and while it doesn’t flash at the same level as the fastball and curve—not on a consistent basis, anyway—it’s certainly an average pitch, and that’s all it really needs to be.
As good as Reyes’ stuff is, there are some concerns, and they start with the command. There isn’t a ton to his delivery, but he’ll lose his arm slot, and he’ll fall behind/walk more batters than a guy who could be a future ace should. Those fun secondary toys mentioned above aren’t always so fun either: the curveball will get slurvy and stay up in the zone, and the change doesn’t do much, so he’s relying mostly on arm speed for deception. It’s not that Reyes command is so bad that he can’t start, it’s just that it’s frustrating to see a pitcher with this kind of stuff not reach his potential because the command isn’t up to snuff. There’s a nonzero chance that the command might not be up to snuff.
Immediate Big-League Future: In terms of just pure stuff, the only starting pitching prospects that can compete with Reyes at the higher levels are Giolito and Glasnow. To quote my friend Nicholas Cage, that’s high praise. The question is: Is he going to throw enough strikes for that stuff to matter? We’ve seen a ton of starters come up this year and struggle to get ahead in counts, and you can be sure that the team he faces is going to make him work. With an 80 fastball and a curveball that will flash 70, he only needs to have average command to be successful. If he can’t, he has a chance to be a tremendous reliever, but the Cardinals will give this young man every chance to start, and you should be optimistic—if not all in—on his abilities to stay in a rotation in the short-to-long-term. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Take: There’s no doubt concerning Reyes long-term potential upside as an elite fantasy ace at the front of the Cardinals rotation. Simply put, there isn’t another minor-league arm that possesses an arsenal oozing with tantalizing fantasy potential quite like the 21-year-old right-hander, which was on full display at the Futures Game last month. The uncertainty, from a fantasy perspective, surrounds his immediate role at the major-league level over the remainder of the current campaign.
Regardless of the temporary role he’s given right out of the gate in St. Louis, whether it’s as a starter or out of the bullpen, it’s easy to forecast his devastating fastball/curveball combination flummoxing major-league hitters. Through 14 starts at Triple-A Memphis, Reyes owns a 4.96 ERA with 93 strikeouts and just 32 walks in 65 1/3 innings. On the surface, his ERA doesn’t seem that impressive, until you factor in that Pacific Coast League teams are averaging nearly five runs (4.86) per game this season. It’s the strikeouts that will make the biggest fantasy impact. Among Triple-A starters, only Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell has posted a higher strikeout rate than Reyes (12.8 K/9) in 2016.
Ranked a top-20 fantasy prospect coming into the year, and 16th overall in Bret Sayre’s recent mid-season update, Reyes is worthy of a substantial FAAB investment in re-draft formats where he hasn’t been stashed already. There’s no other minor-league arm on the horizon that can make as much of an impact as Reyes over the final two months. —George Bissell