Reyes once again a top prospect

Every year there is one pitcher that steps up and becomes a top prospect in the Braves' farm system. This year it's Jo Jo Reyes. The Braves Show's Bill Shanks watched Reyes pitch Thursday night in Columbus and talked with him after getting victory number five on the season.

The kid's been through a lot. He had Tommy John surgery two years ago, and then last season, right after coming back from his elbow problem, he tore the ACL in his knee.

But Jo Jo Reyes looks to be back - back with a vengence.

Thursday night he was tremendous in getting his fifth win of the season. Reyes pitched 6.2 scoreless innings, allowing only three hits, walking three, and striking out five.

Reyes was in complete control, and the only reason he left was he had reached his pitch limit of 100. Not many of the Columbus hitters even got good licks off Rome's ace pitcher, who got most of his outs without even using his very effective curveball.

"I threw it once in a while," Reyes said afterward. "I didn't really need it. Guys were getting themselves out early in the count with the fastball. Mainly fastballs. I want to say 90% fastballs tonight. I threw about four or five changeups. Just mainly four-seam fastballs."

The revelation from Reyes shows how much he's learned about pitching. From the time he put on a Braves uniform after being drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft, Reyes has had a good assortment of pitches. But now he's learning when to use those pitches effectively to get batters out more consistently.

"The key is to get ahead of the hitters and you play to them," he said. "They're thinking off speed and you throw a fastball and you get them. Last time against Charleston I threw more offspeed, but tonight I was getting them out with the fastball, so that's what I was working on tonight."

The month of May has been fantastic for the lefty from California. Reyes is 3-0 in his last four starts with an ERA of 0.70. He's allowed only two earned runs on 10 hits in 25.2 innings of work, with seven walks, and 29 strikeouts. Overall, in eight starts, Reyes is 5-0 with an ERA of 2.78.

"The last four outings have been really great," Reyes admitted. "It just feels like I've been back in the groove. I've just been throwing a lot of strikes."

That's what he did before he got hurt the first time two years ago. Reyes quickly established himself as a pitcher that might zip through the farm system quickly, but then injuries slowed him down. But now, he looks to be right back on the prospect ladder, and it's all about staying healthy.

"Yeah I feel 100%," Reyes said. "In the seventh inning I don't even feel anything. I don't even feel tired. I was going good. Everything's 100%, so no worries no more."

The Braves aren't worried either. They know Reyes will probably not finish the season in Rome, but they are pacing his starts so that when the call does come, Reyes can be fully prepared for the promotion to Myrtle Beach later this summer.

"He's been pitching like he's ready to go," said Rome pitching coach Jim Czajkowski. "Jo Jo and (Chris) Vines both are older than most of these other guys and they want to go to that next level. They want that next challenge. But on the other side of it, I don't think they want to leave this situation of winning games and having such a great defense behind them and great offensive power. You might miss that somewhere else. They're both pitching well enough that I could say they could go. I wouldn't hurt my feelings if they left."

For now, Reyes will remain with the 29-10 Rome team, but if the Braves clinch the first half title (which with the way they are going could come before the end of May), you could see the lefty promoted to the Carolina League.

Reyes is a pitcher that could climb the ladder very quickly. He's got awesome stuff, with a fastball that can reach 93 and a solid curve and changeup. Plus, eventually he'll be allowed to break out a slider that was called "major league caliber" when he was in the Gulf Coast League.

Now that he's healthy, Reyes has become the Braves top left-handed pitching prospect. He's talented enough that if he did well later in the season in Myrtle Beach, Reyes could be in Double-A next season and knocking on the door sometime next season - much like Chuck James rose from Rome to the big leagues in one season.

Reyes is that good, and it only makes the Braves stronger with top shelf talent continuing to develop at a solid pace.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look at the Braves' traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at

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