Tag: St Louis Cardinals

Alex Reyes Will Emerge as MLB’s Newest Ace in 2017 Rookie Season

Alex Reyes’ journey has already taken him from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic to the top of prospect rankings and finally to the major leagues in 2016.

Next stop: the top of the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation.

OK, so that’s not set in stone. With a healthy Lance Lynn set to rejoin Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha in 2017, the Cardinals have five proven starters for five spots. That’s a tough nut for a 22-year-old with only 46 major league innings to crack.

The Cardinals did remove a key barrier in Reyes’ way when they traded Jaime Garcia in December, however. After that, Mike Matheny declared the young right-hander would get his shot.

“He should be a starting pitcher,” the skipper said, via MLB.com. “We’ll see how it plays out through spring training. There are certain guys who have slotted innings set for them, and Alex is going to have those. He’s earned that.”

No kidding. With a 1.57 ERA in 12 appearances (five starts) last year, Reyes was a shot in the arm for a Cardinals pitching staff that had tumbled from the high perch it had occupied in 2015. That’s pretty good as far as first impressions go, and it wasn‘t even enough work to strip Reyes of his rookie status. 

That means Reyes is technically still a prospect. And my, what a prospect he is.


While there was some disagreement about the league’s best hitting prospect going into 2017, Reyes ran away as the best pitching prospect in MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo’s poll of MLB executives.

“I don’t even know who else is a candidate,” said one pro scouting director. “Reyes has the best combo of stuff and results with the stuff.”

Reyes’ stuff has had scouts drooling for years. Baseball America‘s report on him last year, for example, remarked he featured “closer stuff” for six or seven innings when he was at his best. That included a fastball that could climb as high as 100 mph and a 12-to-6 curveball described as a “true hammer.”

In the minors, Reyes used his weapons to strike out 12.1 batters per nine innings. But it wasn’t until he was promoted in August that fans got a proper introduction to his stuff.

It must have been love at first sight for many, as Reyes pitched a 1-2-3 inning that featured a couple of 101 mph fastballs in his debut:


Per Brooks Baseball, Reyes was no longer flirting with triple digits by the time the Cardinals were stretching him out as a starter and long reliever in September. But he was still sitting in the mid-90s. And overall, Baseball Prospectus vouches that Reyes showed a fastball that ranked in the top 10 in average velocity (96.7 mph) and whiff-per-swing rate (26.9 percent).

As for Reyes’ other notorious offering, he used his curveball sparingly by throwing it only about 8 percent of the time. However, the curves he did throw lived up to their “hammer” reputation by ranking here in downward action, per Baseball Prospectus:

  1. Alex Reyes: -11.57 in.
  2. Mike Fiers: -11.33 in.
  3. Seth Lugo: -11.18 in.
  4. Chris Tillman: -10.52 in.
  5. Evan Scribner: -10.44 in.

That’s what Reyes’ ball-on-string curve looks like in numbers. And now for moving pictures:

The revelation of Reyes’ breakthrough, though, was the quality of two supposedly inferior pitches. 

Although scouts didn’t ignore his changeup during his journey to The Show, the consensus was that it lagged behind his heater and hook. But it was an effective go-to pitch for him against major league hitters. It accounted for 23.7 percent of his offerings and held batters to a .172 average.

Contrary to those of his fastball and curveball, the measurements on Reyes’ changeup aren’t eye-popping. Its effectiveness is more a matter of location and deception. Reyes showed an ability to (mostly) spot it on the glove-side corner of the strike zone, where it worked well in tandem with (mostly) high fastballs because…

Well, let’s let the man himself explain.

“I feel like that [the changeup is] more of a swing-and-miss pitch for me now because hitters have to be geared up for the fastball,” he told J.J. Cooper of Baseball America.

The other pitch that served Reyes surprisingly well is the slider that he broke out in September. He threw it more often than his curveball that month and limited hitters to a .143 average with it.

This is another pitch that doesn’t have otherworldly measurements. But albeit in a limited sample, he showed it’s the breaking pitch he has better control of. Whereas his curveballs were all over the place, his sliders routinely broke off the glove-side corner.

That means Reyes impressed with four pitches from either a sheer electricity perspective or from a command-and-sequencing perspective. With an arsenal that loaded, it’s no wonder opposing hitters were so overwhelmed.

It would’ve been good enough if Reyes had dazzled only with his rate of 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. But even his solid .283 batting average on balls in play doesn’t capture how well he managed contact. Per Baseball Savant, the average exit velocity off him was an MLB-low 84.9 mph.

Since hitting Reyes’ stuff is such a challenge, arguably the best strategy against him is for hitters to keep their bats on their shoulders.

Although Reyes’ stuff was as advertised last season, it’s less encouraging that his control was also as advertised. He walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in the minors and stayed that course by walking 4.5 per nine innings in the majors.

That’s no way to be efficient, and it also lessens his margin for error. Clearly, this defect needs fixing.

However, that doesn’t seem to be a major undertaking.

Reyes isn’t walking batters because he’s a small dude with a high-effort delivery. Even his listed size of 6’3″ and 175 pounds seems conservative, and he shows his strength and athleticism with every pitch. He puts as much effort into throwing a baseball as Average Joe does into changing the channel.

As Christopher Crawford and George Bissell of Baseball Prospectus noted upon Reyes’ arrival, his challenge is maintaining a consistent arm slot. That should be a matter of making simple tweaks rather than undergoing a major mechanical overhaul.

That’s to say Reyes isn’t far away from the leap between dominating in a small sample size and dominating over a larger one.

I’ll leave it to Wainwright (via Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal) to explain what that means:


As everyone will have noticed by now, there’s no argument here.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Dexter Fowler to Cardinals: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Outfielder Dexter Fowler agreed to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, as first reported by USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale.

The deal is for five years and $82.5 million, including a full no-trade clause, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports on Friday. 

Frank Cusumano of KSDK Sports in St. Louis reported a physical is scheduled for Friday.

Fowler, 30, was a crucial member of the Chicago Cubs as they won their first World Series title since 1908, hitting .276 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI, 84 runs and 13 stolen bases in 125 regular-season games. He was solid in the postseason as well, hitting .250 with three home runs, six RBI, 11 runs and a stolen base in 17 games.

But the Cubs are loaded in the outfield, with Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. available. Heyward and Almora are capable of manning center field duties, so re-signing Fowler was never likely to be a priority for the reigning champions.


That allowed St. Louis to snag Fowler, who should not only improve the team’s defense but also provide consistent production toward the top of the lineup. Additionally, his postseason experience will be valued in the clubhouse.

Fowler was a key ingredient in the Cubs’ title-winning season. Now, the Cardinals will be hoping he’s the addition that puts them over the top as they seek another championship themselves.

One of the primary areas of need for the Cardinals was an upgrade in center field, so Fowler will check off that box. Fowler’s signing should also fan the flames of the team’s heated rivalry with the Cubs, and his addition makes the Cardinals a threat in the NL Central.

Fowler’s signing won’t be as flashy as some of the other names out there, but he was exactly what the Cardinals needed this offseason.

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Dexter Fowler’s Defection Gives Cardinals a Fighting Chance Against Rival Cubs

The St. Louis Cardinals have the unenviable task of catching up to the Chicago Cubs. It’s a mission that will take all their cunning.

Their latest idea: deny the enemy and enrich themselves in one fell swoop.

It’s not officially official, but the news circulating Thursday night is that Dexter Fowler is defecting from the Cubs to the Cardinals. Bob Nightengale of USA Today was on it first:

According to Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball, Fowler’s deal with St. Louis will be for five years and at least $16 million per season. The Cardinals would also lose the No. 19 pick in the 2017 draft.

Nonetheless, a quality center fielder may be about to earn less money than Aroldis Chapman, a one-inning relief pitcher who’s in line to get $86 million over five years from the New York Yankees. Simply on those grounds, let’s call this a win for the Cardinals. Good job, guys.

But that’s not the only reason for them to be giddy. Per Nightengale, Fowler has been the club’s top target since the summer. Manager Mike Matheny has made no secret of that, going so far as to compare Fowler to Cardinals All-Star Matt Carpenter.

“The more players that you can have like that, I think the better off you’re going to be,” the skipper told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

There’s more reason to like Fowler now than ever before. The 30-year-old is coming off one of his best seasons. He finished 2016 with an .840 OPS underscored by a .393 on-base percentage. He also played against type by rating well defensively.

With Fowler’s age-31 season due up in 2017, there’s a natural concern about how well he’ll age in the life of a five-year contract. But in his case, there are reasons to believe he’ll be fine.

Although Fowler’s still an excellent athlete, his offensive production stems mainly from his head. He has an outstanding approach and an excellent batting eye.

That not only affords him plenty of OBP-boosting walks but ensures that most of his swings are taken at pitches he can hit well. Even if he tops out around 15 home runs per season, this is how he keeps his overall power production above league average.

Meanwhile, Fowler’s defensive improvement in 2016 had nothing to do with a random mid-career surge of athleticism. It traced back to a simple positioning adjustment.

“I was getting crushed with the defense,” Fowler told Paul Skrbina of the Chicago Tribune in October. “They said I was a bad outfielder. I kind of took offense to that. So I just moved back a few steps.”

Assuming Fowler takes this adjustment to St. Louis, he stands to improve a center field spot that finished 24th in ultimate zone rating in 2016. The Cardinals’ entire defense would benefit from that, which would satisfy one of the goals they had for their offseason.

“It certainly was a year of inconsistencies,” general manager John Mozeliak said in October, per Ben Frederickson of the Post-Dispatch. “You think back to some of our defensive struggles, which put a lot of stress on our rotation and then led to some inconsistencies with the rotation.”

On the other side of the ball, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney’s projection for the new Cardinals lineup looks about right:

Fowler can’t do much to upgrade a leadoff spot that, mainly thanks to Carpenter, posted a .368 OBP and .848 OPS in 2016.

But allowing Carpenter to move into the middle of the batting order should have the desired effect there. Only five teams got a lower OPS from their Nos. 3 through 6 hitters than the Cardinals in 2016. With an .877 OPS and 49 home runs over the last two seasons, Carpenter should fix that.

Bottom line: The Cardinals will be better after signing one of the top players on the market than they were before. How ’bout that, huh? Amazing.

Now, as good as the Cubs? Not quite yet.

The Cubs won 17 more games (and that other thing) than the Cardinals in 2016, so they started the winter in a better place by default.

And although they’ve lost Fowler, Albert Almora Jr. will probably play better defense in center while a healthy Kyle Schwarber picks up Fowler’s offensive slack. The Cubs also filled their vacant closer role with Wade Davis, who is very, very good.

The early projections for 2017 peg the Cubs to once again be the team to beat not just in the NL Central but in the entire league. Per FanGraphs, their projection of 95 wins is the highest of any club.

But with a projection of 84 wins even before Fowler is factored into the mix, the Cardinals do have one thing going for them: They’re the team in the NL Central with the best shot of taking down the Cubs.

Two of the clubs in the division, the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, are so far out of the picture that we might as well be assessing their chances of winning the NFC North. The Pittsburgh Pirates have good individual parts but an incomplete whole and limited resources for fixing it.

With only the (shockingly expensive) Brett Cecil signing going for them before Thursday, the Cardinals were more in a boat with the Pirates than paddling toward the Cubs. With Fowler now set to give them a boost in more ways than one, their odds of overtaking the Cubs are somewhere below laughable.

Faint praise? Sort of. But you never know. Maybe the Cardinals aren’t supposed to topple the Cubs, but Frodo wasn’t supposed to get the One Ring to Mt. Doom either. Nor was Luke Skywalker supposed to destroy the Death Star.

Sometimes all you can do is give it a shot. The Cardinals are now ready to take theirs.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Brett Cecil to Cardinals: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Free-agent relief pitcher Brett Cecil will have a new home for the first time in his eight-year MLB career, as he signed a four-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported the deal was worth $30.5 million.

“The Cecil market escalated quickly. Teams realized three years wasn’t gonna get it done, and St. Louis coveted him enough to go four,” Passan added.

Cecil is coming off his worst season since 2012 with the Toronto Blue Jays, as he posted a 1-7 record with a 3.93 ERA while allowing 39 hits in 36.2 innings.

He was hampered by a triceps injury that kept him sidelined from mid-May to mid-June and allowed 13 runs in his first 24 appearances, with his ERA swelling to 6.75.

He finished strong, however, surrendering just one run in his final 17 appearances. Cecil’s curveball was the pitch he relied heavily upon:

Cecil used the pitch 45.4 percent of the time last season, which was the highest mark of his career, per FanGraphs.

The left-hander posted a sub-3.00 ERA each year from 2013 to 2015, and he made an All-Star appearance in 2013, when he finished 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA and 11 holds in 60.2 innings.

The Cardinals will hope he can regain that form in 2017 and become an asset to their bullpen.

St. Louis boasts a strong and deep relief corps, but it was in dire need of another quality southpaw to support Kevin Siegrist.

Zach Duke did well in that regard last season, but he is expected to miss all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in early October.

That created a major void, but if Cecil can bounce back from a subpar 2016, he is an ideal option to fill it.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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Jaime Garcia’s Contract Option Picked Up by Cardinals: Latest Details, Reaction

The St. Louis Cardinals reportedly will pick up the $12 million club option in the contract of starting pitcher Jaime Garcia for 2017.

Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com first reported the decision, with Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball confirming the report.

Garcia reached the 30-start mark for just the second time in 2016, but his other numbers fell well below his usual standards. The 30-year-old righty went 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.37 WHIP across 171.2 innings, the second-highest total in his career.

His struggles led to a September where he pitched more than four innings just once. The Cardinals kept him on a short leash when he started and also moved him into the bullpen at times as they tried to find other rotation options that could help them reach the playoffs, a quest that ultimately fell short.

Mark Saxon of ESPN.com passed along comments from Garcia in mid-September about the lackluster performance and his efforts to get back on track:

I’m trying to figure out what’s going on, whether it’s push things a little more or back off. I’m doing everything that’s in my power to be the best I can for the team, and unfortunately, I’ve let my team down. I’ve been through tough times before, and I’m going to continue to do what I can to fight and be there for the team.

The lack of quality starts was made more frustrating by the fact he pitched well in 2015. He made just 20 starts due to injury during that campaign, but he finished with career-best totals in both ERA (2.43) and WHIP (1.05).

While the drop-off wasn’t as extreme as the baseline numbers make it seem—his xFIP went up only 0.41 compared to an ERA jump of 2.24, per FanGraphs—the dip in production combined with the fact the Cardinals couldn’t count on him down the stretch made the option decision tougher.

Ultimately, the Cardinals have optioned to keep Garcia in the fold. Even though he didn’t live up to expectations last season, his prior success earned him enough leeway with the organization to get another chance to prove himself as a valuable piece of the staff in 2017.

He’ll likely need to pitch well during spring training to guarantee himself a spot in the rotation, though. St. Louis already has Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Mike Leake, while promising prospect Alex Reyes is pushing for a full-time role.

Garcia’s salary likely gives him the inside track, but Reyes’ rise and the return of Lance Lynn from Tommy John surgery will create a logjam. The Cardinals may hope he gets off to a strong start and then try to flip him for another asset during the season.


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Mike Matheny, Cardinals Agree on New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

The St. Louis Cardinals and Mike Matheny reached an agreement Thursday on a three-year contract extension to keep the manager with the organization through the 2020 season.

MLB.com passed along official confirmation of the extension. The announcement included comments from Cardinals principal owner and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr.

“Mike has continued the Cardinals tradition of winning in his first five years as manager and we are happy to extend his contract leading our club on the field through 2020,” DeWitt said.

Matheny spent five seasons with the Cardinals from 2000-2004 as a catcher during a playing career that spanned 13 years. The Ohio native won three of his four career Gold Glove Awards during that time.

He was hired as the team’s manager following the 2011 campaign after the retirement of longtime St. Louis skipper Tony La Russa. While it represented a risk for the Cardinals to replace a team legend with a first-time manager, he’s proved up to the task.

Matheny has guided the team to a 461-349 record, four postseason berths and three NL Central titles during his first five years in charge. One of those playoff appearances resulted in a trip to the 2013 World Series, where the Cardinals came up short against the Boston Red Sox.

St. Louis is coming off its first playoff-less season since 2010, though. It went 86-76, finishing one game behind the wild-card entrants, the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants.

After the Cardinals missed out on one of those final spots, Matheny stated they simply hit their stride a little too late, per David Wilhelm of the Belleville News-Democrat:

There’s no disappointment in winning the last four games. I was waiting for our best run, and we started to put it together. You talk about who’s that hot team, and we had the makings of that. I guarantee you there are teams out there that are plenty happy the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t continuing to play.

Recent history suggests it won’t be a long playoff drought. The Cardinals haven’t gone more than two years in a row without making the postseason in the current millennium. It’s made them one of the best franchises in sports, right alongside the likes of the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs.

A seamless transition from La Russa to Matheny is one of the many reasons for that run of consistent success. Even though they didn’t get the desired result this season, the extension shows the front office remains confident the former catcher is the right fit to lead the team moving forward.


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Cardinals in Good Shape to Keep MLB’s Longest Active Playoff Streak Alive

Peas and carrots. Kim Kardashian and attention. The St. Louis Cardinals and the postseason. Some things just go together.

The Cards don’t make the playoffs every year—but it sure seems like they do. The last time they didn’t was 2010.

St. Louis is poised to make its sixth consecutive late-October foray, which would move the franchise into third place on the all-time list.

The New York Yankees reached the postseason 13 straight times from 1995 to 2007, and the Atlanta Braves accomplished the feat 14 straight times from 1991 to 2005 (excluding the strike-interrupted 1994 season).

Yes, if everything were decided Sunday, the Cardinals would be on the outside looking in. The juggernaut Chicago Cubs have wrapped up the National League Central. And at 78-71, St. Louis trails both the San Francisco Giants (79-70) and New York Mets (80-69) in the wild-card scramble.

Things looked especially bleak for the Cardinals after they lost the first two games of a four-game set against San Francisco on Thursday and Friday.

But they rallied back, notching a 3-2, come-from-behind win Saturday and blanking the Giants 3-0 Sunday at AT&T Park behind young right-hander Alex Reyes.

With the wild-card race all but knotted, the Cards can look ahead to a relatively easy slate.

They get three games in Denver against the sub-.500 Colorado Rockies (though Coors Field is an adventure) and then three games at Wrigley Field against a Cubs team that won’t be firing on all cylinders with the division in hand.

After that, they go home for four against the woeful Cincinnati Reds and three with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have also dipped below .500.

The Mets’ schedule is even softer, with 10 of their final 13 games coming against the Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.

The Giants, meanwhile, clash six more times with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lead the NL West and will be intent on burying their longtime rivals.

It’s an even year, so you can’t count San Francisco out despite its dreadful second-half record. The Mets are vulnerable after adding Jacob deGrom to their list of done-for-the-season pitchers, as Bleacher Report’s Zachary D. Rymer pointed out.

The point is, St. Louis has a realistic chance of snagging one of the NL’s two wild-card berths. FanGraphs puts it at 43.5 percent compared to 89.6 percent for the Mets and 66.4 percent for the Giants. Given the Cards’ history of excellence, that seems a touch pessimistic.

After that, who knows?

The Cardinals offense ranks third in the NL in runs scored and OPS. Bust-out rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz is back from a thumb injury and joins reliable contributors such as third baseman Matt Carpenter and catcher Yadier Molina. 

In the starting rotation, veterans Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake own plus-4.00 ERAs, but Reyes and the 24-year-old Carlos Martinez offer hope for both the present and future.

This team isn’t perfect. And if it does punch a playoff ticket, it’ll likely face either the Giants and Madison Bumgarner or the Mets and Noah Syndergaard in the one-and-done Wild Card Game. If St. Louis survives, the Cubs would be waiting.

For now, however, the Cards can call on their deep reserve of postseason-push experience. They can exploit the schedule. They can keep their foot pressed firmly on the gas, the Cardinal way.

“This is playoff baseball already for us,” said second baseman Kolten Wong after Saturday’s victory, per ESPN.com’s Mark Saxon. “We’re playing every single game like it’s our last.”

Not everyone’s a believer. On Saturday, KSDK’s Dan Buffa didn’t mince his words: “‘Deserve has got nothing to do with it,’ some say. Well, I disagree. The 2016 St. Louis Cardinals don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.”

Yet here they are, standing on the edge of a half-dozen straight postseason appearances. A quiet dynasty in the making. 

Biscuits and gravy. Donald Trump and hair jokes. The Cards and October. 

Some things just go together.


All statistics and standings current as of Sunday and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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Trevor Rosenthal Injury: Updates on Cardinals Pitcher’s Shoulder and Return

The St. Louis Cardinals received a boost to their bullpen with Thursday’s return of Trevor Rosenthal.

Rosenthal hadn’t pitched for the Cardinals since July 24 because of shoulder and forearm injuries.

This comes at an ideal time for St. Louis, which had won just six of its last 14 games entering Thursday’s action while falling behind the New York Mets in the National League wild-card race.

The former closer has had a rough season, compiling a 5.13 ERA with a 2-4 record and four blown saves. However, he noted his pitching accuracy wasn’t what it should have been while he was dealing with the injuries.

“Even with the injury, I felt my arm strength was there,” Rosenthal explained, per Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It was just being able to make pitches and command counts. That’s more important than the arm strength, and having that feel back is going to be what helps me get outs.”

The 26-year-old has proved himself in the past, compiling a 2.10 ERA with 48 saves last season while earning his first All-Star Game appearance and accumulating some NL MVP votes in the process.

St. Louis will hope Rosenthal is not only healthy, but also as effective as he was in 2015 as the team tries to secure a playoff berth down the stretch.

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Alex Reyes’ US-to-DR Move, Growth Spurt Spawned 100 MPH Fastball

Depending on when you first heard of Alex Reyes, it might come as a surprise that the 22-year-old pitcher is in a playoff race with the St. Louis Cardinals

A Google search reveals little—if anything—was written about him as an above-average but not particularly promising high school pitcher. If he threw in the mid-80s, that was a great day, but it wasn’t nearly good enough to gain the attention of the best college baseball programs, let alone professional scouts. Many of the country’s top prep players throw in the 90s as freshmen.

So those in Reyes’ hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, might appreciate his unusual ascension over the past four years. But most baseball fans were first introduced to him this season, when both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had him ranked as a top-10 prospect.

By then, he had developed a fastball that regularly hit 100 mph. As a result, many likely assumed he had always been a power pitcher. With the Cardinals, he regularly hits triple digits on the radar gun. He’s so electric that you turn your head from the game to watch him warm up in the bullpen.

“I never thought I would [throw 100],” Reyes said. “I was just out there trying to pitch my best baseball. That’s something that happened. I wasn’t necessarily looking for it. But I’m thankful for God giving me the opportunity.”

Reyes may credit divine intervention, but he had to navigate financial constraints and personal pitfalls on his way through one of baseball’s best organizations.

Nearly everyone living in a major metropolitan area is a short drive away from a pitcher who can throw in the mid-80s. That’s to say, it isn’t all that special. At that time, Reyes estimates he stood at 5’11”, a modest height for a pitcher.

His measurables didn’t command the attention of professional scouts, and finances prevented him from going to showcases such as the Area Code Baseball Games.

So he went to the Dominican Republic in December 2011. His grandmother lives there, and she provided him with a familial environment where he could focus on baseball.

“The way it worked out, that’s what my family thought would be best for me,” Reyes said.

Every summer, Reyes had visited the country, which is known for producing loads of major league talent. Since it is easier to get the attention of scouts on the small Caribbean island and he was comfortable living there, it seemed like a no-brainer.

It was in the Dominican Republic that Reyes would get his biggest break in his quest—a growth spurt.

Reyes sprouted to 6’3″, 175 pounds, which is how the Cardinals list him on their team website. But when you stand next to him, he looks more physically imposing than those measurements might indicate.

Imagine a more athletic version of New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia.

When he got bigger and stronger, Reyes’ fastball gained velocity. It was in the Dominican Republic that his fastball first touched 90 mph. Within a few months of playing there, he became a pitcher who consistently threw in the low 90s.

Reyes said it was then he thought his major league dream was within reach.

“I just wanted the opportunity to become a professional baseball player,” he said. “It’s been a dream for me since I was little kid watching big league guys on TV. Coming this far and making it here to this clubhouse, it’s been fun and [I’m] just trying to build off these experiences.”

In December 2012, the Cardinals signed Reyes as an amateur free agent. MLB rules state that a player must live in a foreign country for a year before he can become an international free agent.

For Single-A Peoria manager Joe Kruzel, the memory of Reyes’ first triple-digit pitch is so vivid that he needs no time to recall the moment.

“Yep, it was in Clinton,” he said immediately after being asked about that 2014 game. The Clinton LumberKings are a Seattle Mariners Midwest League affiliate based in Iowa.

In the immediate aftermath of the pitch, neither Kruzel nor Reyes had immediate confirmation that it had reached triple digits. The radar gun at the LumberKingsAshford University Field didn’t get a reading.

“You’re standing in the dugout and say to each other, ‘Man, that ball had some hair on it. I mean that ball really came out of his hand,'” Kruzel said.

The Peoria manager glanced over at the guy who was charting Reyes’ pitches. He had an unusual expression that gave Kruzel an inkling. He already knew that Reyes had “tinkered at 99” a few times.

The team got confirmation after the game, which launched the clubhouse into a state of euphoria.

“It was fun knowing that, but [it] kind of opened my eyes and made me realize that you can have goals and reach them and things just kind of come your way,” Reyes said.

What Kruzel also remembers about that season is how Reyes matured. He became more of a leader, which seems like a classic cliche used to fill up interview time until Kruzel explains it in greater detail.

“He was the guy that helped the Latin guys out,” Kruzel said. “He was the guy they looked up to. He was the guy who cooked for them, got them comfortable and stuff. It was a great growing experience for him and his teammates because he really took those kids under his wing.

“It helped him understand the importance of everything around him and not just how hard you throw.”

That was the last season Kruzel would manage Reyes, who tore through the Cardinals’ farm system. In Single-A Palm Beach, he posted a 2.26 ERA in 13 starts with a 1.257 WHIP. That same year, he was promoted to Double-A Springfield, where his ERA ticked up to 3.12 but his WHIP dropped down to 1.125.

Reyes appeared well on his way to helping St. Louis at the major league level. He planned to play a full season in the Arizona Fall League when a misstep derailed those plans.

After starting only four games in Arizona, Reyes tested positive for marijuana. He admitted to using the banned substance and was suspended 50 games.

That abruptly ended his stint in the Arizona Fall League and caused him to miss the first 40 games of this season.

“Off the field is just as important on the field,” Reyes said. “It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned and respecting the game and respecting yourself. You have responsibilities you had to deal with, and you have to be smarter with your decisions.”

Reyes joined Triple-A Memphis midseason and posted unsightly numbers, which were likely due to his layoff.

In 14 starts, his ERA was 4.96. But his stuff was still clearly electric, and given that there was a need at the major league level, the Cardinals promoted him in August.

On August 9, Reyes made his major league debut in the ninth inning of a 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. He needed only 11 pitches to retire three straight batters.

Reyes didn’t throw a single ball.

“Actually, it was a little more than what I thought it would be,” Reyes said of his first major league experience. “It’s been fun. Just soaking in all the experiences.”

So far this season, Reyes has a 1.52 ERA in 23.2 innings pitched, including two starts on August 27 against the Oakland Athletics and September 2 against the Reds.

During both starts, Reyes did not have his best stuff, going only 10.2 combined innings. But he allowed just three earned runs across those two outings, suggesting he has the elite-level skill of being able to keep his team in a game when his pitching repertoire isn’t at its peak.

“Every time you see a guy like that and he’s got the ability to throw and he’s got the changeup, it’s fun to call the game,” Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. “[I told him] just to have fun and stay humble and patient. Concentrate. Focus is more important. In his case, he’s mature enough to go out there and do the job.”

Lately, the Cardinals have been using Reyes in longer relief appearances. He pitched 3.2 innings in his latest outing on September 7 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The idea is to keep his arm stretched out so that manager Mike Matheny can again use him as a starter.

“It’s more of just trusting your stuff,” Reyes said of what he needs to do to be successful in the majors. “I feel like if you sign a professional contract, you have a chance to make it to the major leagues. It’s going to take for you to do something that separates you from everyone else.”

For Reyes, it was that he was suddenly given the ability to throw harder than nearly every pitcher alive. Having gone through high school lacking that ability, he knows it’s a gift to cherish.


Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.

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Matt Holliday Injury: Updates on Cardinals Star’s Thumb and Return

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday exited Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs after being hit on his right hand by a pitch in the 10th inning. He was placed on the disabled list on Saturday, and it’s unclear when he’ll return to the field. 

Continue for updates.

Holliday Placed on DL

Saturday, Aug. 13 

The Cardinals announced they recalled pitcher Luke Weaver from Triple-A Memphis to take Holliday’s spot on the active roster. 

Holliday Comments on Injury

Friday, Aug. 12 

Holliday discussed the nature of his injury after Thursday’s game:

Holliday Breaks Thumb

Thursday, Aug. 11

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Holliday suffered a fractured thumb and was headed back to St. Louis for further evaluation. 

Veteran Holliday Still Among League’s Best Sluggers 

Even at 36 years old, Holliday continues to show plenty of power at the plate. Through 106 games, he has 19 home runs, 60 RBI and a .451 slugging percentage. However, Holliday is getting on base at the lowest rate of his career. His .315 on-base percentage is 67 points below his career average.

Holliday was on the receiving end of one of the scariest moments this year. On July 21, he took a 95 mph fastball to the face from San Diego Padres starting pitcher Andrew Cashner:

Despite that hit-by-pitch, the Cardinals put him in the starting lineup the next day.

St. Louis will hope Holliday’s thumb injury proves to be minor, because the timing was not ideal. The Cardinals need his bat in the lineup as they prepare for the stretch run.

After Chicago’s 4-3 win Thursday, the Cubs are 13 games ahead of the Cardinals in the National League Central and are likely going to take the division. That leaves the wild card as the Cardinals’ best chance at reaching the postseason. In a tight NL wild-card race, St. Louis can’t afford to surrender any ground.

Especially with the team struggling mightily this year, the Cardinals need to be able to count on their outfield to deliver at the plate, and Holliday’s absence would make that difficult.

Manager Mike Matheny will likely have to use Tommy Pham or Jeremy Hazelbaker in left field while Holliday recovers.

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