Heading into my two industry National League-only drafts this spring – LABR and Tout Wars – I had decided to allocate one reserve roster spot for a “stash and hold” top prospect pitcher. The hopes are for a mid-season bump while recognizing that I could not wait to try to pay FAAB for top talents later. My industry brethren are too knowledgeable for a waiting strategy to work.
My top choices were Lucas Giolito of the Washington Nationals and Tyler Glasnow from the Pittsburgh Pirates. I think both should contribute this season, but I feel Giolito will deliver the greatest value in 2016.
To that end, I spent $4 to roster Giolito in LABR, but had to go $2 higher to get my man in Tout two weeks later. Glasnow went for $4 in both drafts. Along with the two - plus Dodgers lefty Julio Urias - the fourth pitcher in Baseball America’s top 11 prospects coming into the 2016 season is a player with some question marks, Alex Reyes of the St. Louis Cardinals.
A lot has changed since those drafts, however, as I will explain. My bottom line is that if you are in an NL League or any format in which you can stash prospects, I urge you to go get Reyes now. Do not wait.
As many reading this already know, Reyes, 21, has been the victim of bad judgment off the field, currently under suspension due to a second failed drug test for marijuana.
I have just returned from St. Louis Cardinals extended spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida. There, Reyes is competing against players his own age, but of a lower ability level. He is prohibited from competing in games for which admission is charged, so he's toiling on the back fields with players yet unable to make a full-season minor league club.
Though I was told he touched 100 mph on his prior outing, the right-hander was primarily working in the 91-94 range, topping out at 96 when he needed a strikeout. Reyes also threw changeups at around 85 mph and a 76 mph curve, both of which he could get over for strikes. He still can at times issue too many walks, however, being one of his few weaknesses.
Though the Cardinals could have dodged Reyes’ suspension by simply adding him to their 40-man roster, the organization wisely did not let their talented youngster take the easy way out of his troubles. (Marijuana use is not tested for, nor is it a punishable offense at the Major League level.)
After watching Reyes dominate against these much-less experienced hitters, he looks ready to go when eligible to be activated around May 20. I say “around” because it is unclear at what level Reyes will return. He finished 2015 with eight starts at Double-A before heading to the Arizona Fall League, yet this spring, the Cardinals surprisingly placed him on the Triple-A roster to serve his suspension.
My gut feeling all along has been that Reyes would be given a few starts in the Texas League to get his feet on the ground before being challenged in the Pacific Coast League.
In reality, that matters less given what has happened to starters above him in the Cardinals system over the last 60 days. Soon after Reyes shows he is ready, he could find himself in St. Louis.
This is very different from my reading coming into the year. At that time, I thought Reyes would probably be given a spot start or two in September and maybe a handful of relief appearances, keeping his 2016 fantasy value relatively low.
Here is why that is now out the window. It is that old friend called “opportunity.”
This spring, the Cardinals’ vaunted depth in their starting pitching took a major hit, opening the door for Reyes to potentially quickly position himself as the unofficial sixth starter in waiting.
Two of the system’s three talented left-handed starters, all with MLB experience, are on the shelf. This spring, Marco Gonzales’ elbow gave out, leading to Tommy John surgery. Tim Cooney is suffering from shoulder problems that have him on hold indefinitely. Obviously, there is concern. Before the injuries struck, the two were expected to co-anchor the Triple-A rotation, jockeying to be the first call-up.
That leaves Tyler Lyons, who threw seven scoreless innings at Pittsburgh to clinch the division for St. Louis last fall. Out of minor league options, Lyons was moved to relief in 2016 to keep him on the Major League roster, but he has been uneven in that role. Lyons could make a spot start or two in an emergency but does not seem positioned to fill a regular rotation spot, should one open up.
Even before Gonzales and Cooney went down, the Cardinals made the unusual (for them) move this winter to bring in three Triple-A starters from outside the organization for depth. All three are currently in the Memphis rotation – Deck McGuire, J.C. Sulbaran and Jeremy Hefner. You may recognize the latter as a former starter for the Mets whose career was sidetracked by a pair of Tommy John surgeries.
While St. Louis has one of the better starting rotations in MLB from one to five, four have dealt with physical problems in the recent past – Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia. The fifth, free agent signee Mike Leake, like ace Wainwright, has been surprisingly ineffective in his first season with the Cardinals.
Bottom line, it is unclear who the Cardinals would call upon when they need another starter. The current options are less than compelling. However, Reyes will answer that question – if he can assert himself quickly once off suspension – and he has all the talent to do just that.
Again, my advice to you is to not wait. If you are willing to stash and hold Giolito or Glasnow, you should be doing the same with Reyes – right now. You will thank me later.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.