Alex Reyes, The Cardinal Nation’s top prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, made his 2016 season debut on Sunday afternoon for the Memphis Redbirds at AutoZone Park.
The 21-year-old fanned eight (tying Arturo Reyes for most strikeouts in a game by a Memphis starter this season), and allowed two hits and no runs to the Fresno Grizzlies in his four-inning Triple-A opener.
“Alex was able to establish his fastball early, and worked well with (catcher Alberto) Rosario,” manager Mike Shildt said about Reyes’ performance. “One thing we do is we evaluate guys when they get a little uncomfortable, and when the bases were loaded you saw he was able to step back and make the pitches.”
Reyes, who had three days notice that he would start on Sunday, said he was relieved to finally get some time against more advanced competition. Until this weekend, he had been pitching in Cardinals extended spring training camp.
“I found out about the (start) on Thursday, and have been excited since then,” Reyes said. “I definitely set some goals, and one of those goals was to start (in Memphis).”
While Reyes’ strikeout total was high, the starter threw 33 balls in his first three innings, including three walks and a hit by pitch, and put himself in several tough situations as a result (bases loaded and one out in the second, two men on and zero outs in the third).
However, Reyes calmed down and worked himself out of each situation – five strikeouts in the second and third – using his patented fastball.
With that fastball which rarely reached below 98 mph early on as his primary weapon, the starter faced 18 batters but threw 85 pitches, effectively ending his start after four innings.
“Clearly, every guy is on some pitch count, and Alex is no different,” Shildt said. “We are mindful of the count, and it’s more about the pitches and the kind of stress the guy is under. But like every starter, he’s got to learn how to be more efficient.”
Here are my notes from Reyes’ four innings for Memphis:
1st: Struck out the leadoff man and threw into a pop fly to first baseman Jonathan Rodriguez, but walked the third batter before fanning the cleanup man to end the inning. A majority of his pitches were fastballs in the 98-99 range.
2nd: His second inning was his most difficult. Reyes walked the first batter, but struck out the next. He followed that by walking another and allowing his first hit of the game to load the bases with one out. After a brief discussion with Shildt and Rosario, Reyes proceeded to strike out the next two with his 98 mph fastball.
3rd: Reyes found trouble again in the third – a hit batter leading off and a hit, his second of the day, to the next man up. After another discussion with Shildt and Rosario, the starter responded by inducing a pop out and fanning the last two to get out of the inning. By this point, his fastball dipped towards the 95-96 range.
4th: The fourth inning was by far Reyes’ most comfortable. After throwing 73 pitches in his first three innings, it took just 12 to sit all three batters he faced, including one strikeout.
Ever since Reyes made the move from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and skirted the 2012 Draft, he has been pegged as a future starter in St. Louis’ rotation. He, along with Austin Gomber, were selected the Cardinals’ co-Minor League Pitchers of the Year in 2015, and MLB.com ranked him as the 10th-best prospect in all the minor leagues. The starter currently sits seventh among Baseball America’s top-ranked prospects in Major League Baseball and ninth on Scout.com's national prospect list. .
Reyes made 22 starts at three levels in 2015, primarily splitting time between Palm Beach (A-Advanced) and Springfield (AA), striking out 151 in 101 1/3 innings, walking 49, giving up 70 hits for a .197 opponent batting average and posting a 5-7 record with a 2.49 ERA.
However, the prospect was busted for a second positive drug test for marijuana in November 2015, announced just before Reyes was to start in the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game on national television.
According to a report from MLB.com, prior to the suspension, Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak had viewed Reyes as a candidate for a midseason call up. However, the failed drug test brought a 50-game suspension that included the final 11 games in the Arizona Fall League and the first 39 games of the Redbirds’ 2016 season.
The Cardinals could have prevented the suspension by putting Reyes on the 40-man roster in the spring, but instead decided to teach the young talent a lesson. While it would have been great to see him getting some reps among the big-leaguers in the spring, the club made the right choice holding Reyes accountable.
“Dumb mistakes aren’t going to be acceptable, and I paid for it,” Reyes said regarding the suspension.
With Marco Gonzales out for the 2016 season with Tommy John surgery, Tim Cooney still out indefinitely with a bad shoulder and a scuffling Cardinals rotation, Reyes could still become a primary midseason option for St. Louis. If the organization’s top prospect continues to pitch like he did Sunday, that opportunity could come sooner rather than later.
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