I saw the Kane County Cougars play Wednesday, July 2nd, but there's nothing I could possibly talk about other than Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes, who pitched for the visiting Peoria Chiefs. (In order to fulfill my duties as a Cubs blogger, here are my thoughts on Tyler Skulina: He's real bad.)
Alex Reyes entered the season as a fringe top-100 prospect for most outlets after pitching to a 3.39 ERA as an eighteen-year-old in short-season A ball. Reyes had some command issues, walking 28 in 58 innings, but the 68 strikeouts were indicative of an arsenal with serious upside. Indeed, all reports on Reyes from last season were about as glowing as a scouting report on such a young pitcher could be. Reyes has since moved up to the Midwest League for a taste of full-season ball, and the results haven't been as impressive as everyone had hoped.
That isn't to say that Reyes himself hasn't been impressive, though. On Wednesday night, Reyes attacked the Kane County lineup with some of the best raw stuff you'll ever see in the MWL. Reyes sat in the mid 90s, touched 98, and paired the fastball with strong curveballs and changeups. Kane County hitters couldn't put the bat on the ball, and only had two hits in five innings while striking out ten times. Reyes did, however, walk seven (a total that could've been much higher had Cougars hitters chased fewer shoulder-high fastballs).
Reyes is a special arm, but I have some worries about his command going forward. Let's take a look at what type of pitcher he is now, and what he could become.
(Embedded below is video from Reyes' start on Wednesday July 2nd, 2014)
Out of the windup, Alex Reyes takes only a small sidestep before turning into his leg kick. It's a modern-style windup that wastes little movement. From his high leg kick, Reyes drives forward to the plate slowly before exploding right before footstrike. There's effort here, but not a lot. At footstrike Reyes is in a tremendously powerful position, displaying his athleticism with great hip-shoulder separation. From this position Reyes generates ridiculous torque, explaining his equally ridiculous velocity.
As everything fires towards the plate, Reyes jerks his head down to his left. This allows him to release the ball from a higher angle, but also represents a potential risk for early velocity loss (see BaseballProspectus discussion here) and affects his ability to command the ball. It also affects his balance, which can be seen in how he falls off the mound pretty often.
Aside from the spine tilt issue, there are two more things in Reyes' delivery that make me uncomfortable. The first is his pace, which seemingly fluctuated for no reason - in other words, he'd rush at times (luckily, this is correctable). The second is Reyes's balance.
There is one big point in Reyes's delivery where he often loses balance - his leg kick. If you watch as he kicks, his back leg begins to collapse under him almost immediately after he begins raising his leg. This combination of opposing movements threw him out of whack at times, most notably with his weight shifting to the first base side and causing him to fall way off the mound after release. The other issue with the timing of his back leg's collapse is that he must hold his body on his back leg in a strange position for an abnormally long time, which is nearly impossible to repeat well with each delivery. Reyes isn't in traditional drop and drive mode here, but he does experience similar issues as if he were, and that could limit him going forward.
The Fastball (94-96, T98)
Good Video Examples at 0:06, 1:08, 1:14, 1:44, 1:55
Reyes' fastball is a truly overpowering offering, sitting 94-96 (touched as high as 98) with run. When up in the zone (as it was almost all night), the pitch had far better life than a high fastball should. When Reyes was able to keep it down, it was a ridiculous pitch with plenty of two-seam action coming in at a steep plane. Reyes' command was off all game, but when he had two strikes on a hitter, he began to work up with his fastball on purpose, inducing loads of hopeless swings from Cougars hitters.
Also, did I mention he's 19 and sitting in the mid-90s and touching higher, even in the 5th inning? This is near-elite velocity. And given that Reyes is a tall kid with a thick lower half, I'm confident that he will at least be able to maintain this velocity, if not even tick up a bit more.
With better command this should be a pitch that misses barrels at all levels, inducing a bunch of grounders and missing a lot of bats for a fastball. It's a ferocious pitch.
The Curveball (75-78 mph)
Good Video Examples at 1:06, 1:20-1:25, 2:01-2:06
The better of his two offspeed pitches, Reyes' curveball can only be described as a visually-appealing pitch. It's one of those breaking balls with comical depth, starting off at a batter's head and dropping down below his knees. Unlike many pitches with that movement though, Reyes' curve doesn't just roll up there.
There's no visible "hump" out of his hand, which doesn't allow hitters to pick it up earlier than they would otherwise. Instead, the pitch snaps downwards about 1/3 of the way to the plate. From there the pitch just drops and drops and drops with some horizontal action as well (depending on the pitch, there's anywhere from no horizontal movement to what looks like about a baby slider's amount of horizontal movement). It's not a tight little breaking ball, so hitters won't be out-and-out fooled by it, but it moves so much it will freeze a lot of batters and be tough to square up for any hitter who swings at it.
Interestingly, Reyes showed impressive feel for his curveball on Wednesday. He left a lot in the right-handed batters box, but that may have been due to the rain. When he really snapped the pitch off, he kept it down and in the general vicinity of the target. Curveball command's a weird thing to try and evaluate, especially with a pitch that breaks this much, but he certainly seems to be able to command it to an impressive extent.
This is a pitch that has a chance to be one of the better breaking balls in the majors, and it's certainly going to get a lot of press just based on how pretty it looks.
The Changeup (83-87 mph)
Good Video Examples at 0:26-0:30, 2:49-2:53
Reyes' changeup is the least heralded of his three pitches, but he went out Wednesday night and threw it in most counts, threw it for strikes, kept it down, and got a ton of awkward swings-and-misses off of it. (Your usual MWL caveat: Can you throw a pitch 7 mph slower than your fastball and not leave it over the plate? You could probably strike out 7 batters per 9 innings in that league)
That caveat accounted for, Reyes' changeup was still impressive Wednesday. His arm speed on the pitch is great, there's no perceptible difference is his delivery or arm speed between his 96mph fastball and his 87mph changeup. When a pitcher can do this, the difference in velocity between his fastball and changeup matters a little less. That's good for Reyes, because his changeup was usually only 6 or 7 mph slower than his fastball. It was obviously enough to fool MWL hitters cheating on his fastball, but I'm interested to see how it works on hitters who can handle velocity. I think it'll be fine, but it's something to watch.
If what I saw from Reyes on Wednesday is real and not an example of fluky command, I think this pitch is at least a plus future offering in the big leagues. He has command of it, it has great fade, and his arm speed is nearly the same as with his fastball. And given how hitters will need to gear up against his fastball, he's going to generate a lot of swings and misses with it.
Here's where it falls apart for Reyes. His command and control on Wednesday were poor, if not very poor. He missed the plate often (he did walk 7) and had a bunch of trouble keeping his fastball down. He was able to control his curve and change fairly well, but he just could not locate his fastball. And when he did, it moved so much that I have trouble seeing him ever truly reigning in the pitch
Furthermore, as mentioned in the delivery section of this report, there are multiple red flags in Reyes' command profile. Between the balance issues and the spine tilt, there are mechanical obstacles that prevent Reyes from really controlling his body and repeating his delivery. Some are correctable, some are just how he pitches. He's flexible and strong, so he has a good chance to harness his less-than-ideal mechanics, but it's always going to be a battle for him. I don't ever see average command for him, but given his stuff, it doesn't really need to get there.
It's tough not to love Alex Reyes when you see him live given the premiere stuff and the f-you mentality he throws with. He worked up a lot unintentionally, but he also really enjoyed throwing high-90s fastballs at the letters to dust guys off. And his stuff really is tremendous - the fastball is explosive and his two secondaries work off of it very well. Altogether, he's got a near-elite fastball, a potentially near-elite curveball, and a changeup that could end up as plus and flash even better.
However, Reyes' command could really hold him back. At one point I joked to my cousin and brother at the game that Reyes was going to make "such a great set-up man" in the future, and that's a very realistic outcome - his floor (barring injury) is probably a serviceable reliever, which is pretty high for a 19-year-old walking nearly 7 batters per nine. If somehow Reyes is able to get his command to even below-average level, his stuff is going to plaaaay. He could be a really valuable rotation piece, a solid #2 or very good #3, striking out buttloads of hitters while inducing grounders and walking way too many.
Reyes is an electric pitcher, he's incredibly easy to dream on, and he's got plenty of time to hone his command. If he does, look out - the Cardinals will have yet another startlingly good pitcher in the middle of their rotation.
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