As the St. Louis Cardinals’ final selection of the 2013 draft, 40th rounder Arturo Reyes was taken after 1,205 other players. Obviously, that comes with a tag that the odds are stacked against him to even advance beyond A-ball before flaming out or hitting a wall that would prevents him from fulfilling a life-long dream of reaching the big leagues.
The former Gonzaga Bulldogs right-hander is reunited at the Memphis Redbirds with lefty Marco Gonzales, the Cardinals first-round pick in the 2013 draft, taken 1,186 picks before Arturo. Reyes prefers “Arturo” over “Artie” as he takes pride in his grandpa’s name and wants to remain attached with him.
With the same initials as another pitching prospect in the Cardinals organization, Alex Reyes, the other Reyes, Arturo, has beaten the odds in his third professional season and finds himself one step away from cracking open the big-league door. Winner of the Pitcher of the Month award for the Cardinals organization in June, Reyes became the first winner to have been drafted in the 40th-round or higher since current major-league left-handed set-up man Kevin Siegrist.
A 2014 Midwest League All-Star for the Peoria Chiefs, Reyes opened his 2015 season a level ahead in the pitching-oriented Florida State League. There, he threw three good starts (2.45 ERA but a 1.75 WHIP on 19 hits and six walks in 14 2/3 innings) before a promotion to Double-A Springfield due to the need for another starter. Without much High-A experience, Reyes struggled initially in his Texas League assignment with a clunker in his debut for Springfield, but recovered well by tossing 12 of his 16 outings with no more than two earned runs through at least five innings each.
Improving steadily while trying to maintain consistency of his command, Reyes learned on the fly and after showing an ability to hold mid 90s velocity through the middle of outings, often topping as high as 97 mph. He also has a reliable swing and miss slider, decent changeup, and a strong mental approach. As a result, the right-hander went from an unheralded 40th round pick to a 40th round pick who has the potential to compete in the big leagues in the middle of a rotation, according to scouting sources.
Reyes was rewarded for his successful stint with Springfield by a late-season promotion to Triple-A Memphis last Friday. In the following exclusive interview, Reyes discusses his movement across three levels of the system, his velocity spike, mental approach, adjustments by level, impression of his secondary stuff, and closes by chatting about his new experiences in Triple-A.
Derek Shore: You’ve successfully performed your way up the Cardinals pitching depth chart with a strong showing at Springfield that resulted in a promotion to Memphis. How do you feel about your progress this season?
Arturo Reyes: “It’s been a pretty fun ride. It will definitely be one I’ll remember just from the different movements, starting at Palm Beach, but it comes to show you need to go out executing, you are going to have tough starts. My Double-A debut was not what I wanted to start. I went back to who I was in executing and playing the game. Things ended up working out.”
DS: In terms of velocity you’ve hit as high as 97 in the middle of starts with Springfield. Have you always had that type of arm strength in your career or is it something you’ve improved on this year?
AR: “It’s something that I’ve improved on over the last couple of years. I think that comes with maturity, the weight program, getting a bunch of innings, and fixing my mechanics a little more. All these little things ended up working together and now I just need to develop.”
DS: You have credited the mental aspect as part of your success this season. How did you overcome the mental intricacies and what is different between the 2014 Arturo Reyes and the 2015 Arturo Reyes?
AR: “In 2014, I was basically trying to control the uncontrollable. I was worried about getting called up, doing this and doing that, things that were just out of my control versus just going out there and playing the game, taking one game at a time, a pitch at a time really and executing things right now, instead of the future.
“I definitely was hit around a lot. I was able to control that aspect and stay within myself to execute the next pitch and limit damage. I felt like those were the little things I could bounce back from quicker than I used to before I tried to pitch with anger, left balls up the zone, and get in trouble that way.”
DS: You spent most of the season with the Springfield club, leading the pitching staff in innings pitched, all starters in earned-run average, and represented Springfield as a Texas League All-Star. What was your most difficult adjustment against those Texas League hitters after opening the season at High-A Palm Beach?
AR: “I’d say having a different approach the more times you face them. In this league, you see these teams quite a bit throughout the season, and if you do the same thing over and over, they’ll obviously make the adjustment. Just learning how to pitch to each batter in different ways, change the sequence up, and remember what they did and little things like that where you again come the mental game to learn the game a little more. I feel like that was the biggest adjustment.”
DS: It seemed that your stuff had jumped up a notch since scouting reports from the draft to your time in Springfield and work with pitching coach Jason Simontacchi. What did Simontacchi help fine-tune that led to sharper stuff?
AR: “Just trusting it, basically do every bullpen with a plan and a purpose rather than going out there to throw extra pitches in hoping they would get over the plate. It was all fine-tuning things and just trying to break it down to the smallest we could, so that when I do get into the games, the little mistakes stay little, not big.
“The most he (Simontacchi) taught me was to stay within myself, control what I can, and one of the biggest things I take from him when he told me we’ll have a third of the games where things go perfectly our way, another third where things go not our way at all, and it’s what we do with that other third that basically decides what kind of person we are to battle through. That’s something I’ll always take with me, always push with, even though I’m battling, I’ll be like ‘Oops it’s one of those days. What are you going to do with it?’”
DS: What’s your impression of your results from the rest of your repertoire, as far as secondary stuff?
AR: “I still think it’s got a ton of improving to do - not a ton, but I always want to make it better, and sometimes that gets me in trouble. As long as I can get consistent with it to the point where I feel comfortable, that’s what I’m hoping to get done. It’s definitely helped me a lot, throwing the changeup a lot more. Quite a bit in this game, I’ve noticed extreme results when I throw the changeup during the game versus when I don’t and how off-balance hitters get. Mixing in these off-speed and secondary pitches is just a great way to learn the game.”
DS: Now that you're reunited with your college teammate Marco Gonzales, has his rapid movement up the Cardinals system inspired you in any way to perform better?
AR: “Definitely. I’ve heard it from day one from when we were drafted, he was our first pick, and I was our last pick. We were performing at the same level at that time, he gave me hope, and there should be no doubt in my mind where I can’t perform at the level he’s at right now. When I saw him make it to the big-leagues, it’s been a good fuel to the fire over and over again. I’m thankful for it, at the same time that’s what has got me here.”
DS: You’ve been with the Memphis for nearly a week now. What is different between the Triple-A and Double-A levels as far as travel or competition?
AR: “We haven’t done much travel since I’ve been here. Competition, you can just see in general that the game just gets a little better. It’s still the same game, you see the hitters be a little more disciplined and aggressive at the same time.”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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