SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Alex Reyes' appearances in the Arizona Fall League are being labeled as “must-see" events after just the first week of the 2015 season. The Surprise Saguaro righthander generates the kind of excitement on the mound that has fans, scouts and team executives circling the dates for his next outings.
Surprise pitching coach Carlos Reyes (no relation) mentioned four times during a two-minute interview how much fun it's going to be watching Alex on the mound throughout the fall.
Reyes was electric in his initial AFL outing against the Mesa Solar Sox on Thursday, tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings while yielding only one hit and striking out five. His fastball ranged from 96 to 100 mph, and he also flashed a power 78-81 mph curveball and a hard (87-90) changeup.
“He looked dominant," said a talent evaluator from a rival organization. “It's top-of-the-rotation stuff, with a chance for three plus pitches . . . He's not too far away (from the big leagues)."
Carlos Reyes was equally effusive in his praise for Reyes' outing.
“The kid's going to pitch in the big leagues," coach Reyes said. “He's got a clean delivery and he repeats his delivery . . . He's going to be unhittable."
What's interesting to note is that compared to many of his counterparts, the 21-year-old Reyes hasn't really been pitching that long. He spent just as much time as an infielder during his youth in his hometown of Elizabeth, N.J.
“I would always pitch and play shortstop for most of the time," Reyes said, “just occasional starts, and I would be relieving a lot, just coming straight from shortstop to the mound."
Reyes' opportunities for travel ball were limited to infrequent AAU tournaments during his New Jersey summers, with his family not having the financial wiggle room to send him off to the more high-profile events around the country. The opportunities for Reyes to grow his game outside of the high school season and to be seen by scouts were limited, leading to a decision that changed his future.
One of his longtime coaches, Emmanuel Sena, recommended that Reyes head out of the United States after his junior year of high school. Reyes' parents were both and raised in the Dominican Republic before moving to the United States as teenagers. After retiring from their jobs, Reyes' grandparents had returned to their hometown in San Cristobal, just east of the capital city of Santo Domingo. Sena believed that in the Dominican Republic, more scouts would see Reyes than if he stayed in New Jersey.
At 17, Reyes moved to San Cristobal to live with his grandparents and began playing in various tournaments around the island. He was eligible to be classified as an international prospect after one year in the Dominican Republic, thus exempting him from Major League Baseball's draft.
Reyes was still splitting time between the infield and the mound when he first got to the Dominican Republic, but it wasn't long until he took to pitching full-time.
“I was playing third base and my legs weren't actually there for me," Reyes said. “I wasn't running well at all. My arm felt pretty good off the mound, so we just stuck with that and it went from there."
Before being eligible to sign late in 2012, Reyes was training with Basilio Vizcaino, known better as “Cachaza," who connected him with agent Brian Mejia, co-founder and president of the Dominican Prospect League. Mejia immediately liked what he saw in Reyes.
“He always had an easy delivery, explosive fastball 90-93 mph, and a tight, spinning curveball," Mejia said. “He grew a few inches and gained approximately 30 pounds since (then). He has evolved as a pitcher. He added a quality changeup and two-seam fastball to compliment his arsenal."
The Cardinals signed Reyes in December 2012 for $950,000, their highest international bonus that year. After three successful years in the St. Louis organization, reaching the Double-A level in mid-2015, Reyes was the top prospect in the Florida State League and projects to make it to the big leagues before the end of the 2016 season.
If there's a fault in Reyes' game, it's that he still needs to improve the command of his pitches, as he's averaging 4.6 walks per nine for his career and hit 4.7 at Double-A. He's aware of that area for improvement and believes he just needs more time on the mound to refine his command.
“Just trying to be as consistent as possible," Reyes said about what he's doing to get better. “We've all done it a ton of times . . . You execute a pitch, just being able to repeat the good ones and finding your release point."
While he's very athletic, as evidenced in his first AFL game when he bounded off the mound for a swinging bunt down the third-base line, Reyes has a big body that he'll need to continue to work on to keep in good physical condition. He said that was a focus for him in the fall, using a phone app to aid his conditioning and weight-lifting program.
Reyes also seems to have the cerebral part of the game under control. Sitting with him as spectator at a recent Fall League game, it was readily apparent that he knew all about the players on the field with a depth of knowledge that would rival many scouts. Reyes believes that knowledge is integral to his success.
“Just knowing the game and knowing who's out there will help me when I'm out there on the mound," Reyes said. “You never know when I'm going to face one of these guys . . . just being intelligent and being smart, just looking around the game is something I try to do a lot."
Reyes has also learned from the St. Louis organization what it means to be a member of the Cardinals and how to conduct himself on and off the field.
“You're representing the organization, and that you're not just representing the name that's on your back," Reyes said. “Being a professional off the field is just as important as being one on the field. That's the biggest thing I've learned from the Cardinals."
The Cardinals have experienced success breaking in young pitchers as relievers first, then transitioning the likes of Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Carlos Martinez to the rotation. At this point Reyes doesn't know if that's in the works for him next year and he doesn't really care.
“That's something that's out of my control," Reyes said. “I try not to think about that kind of stuff. I just go out and try to compete on the mound, and hopefully everything takes care of itself."
• Glendale outfielder Jacob Scavuzzo (Dodgers) won the annual Bowman Hitting Challenge Saturday night at Salt River Fields, breaking a tie with Austin Dean (Marlins) on his final swing. A.J. Reed (Astros) was the top hitter in the American League bracket.
• Among roster updates in the AFL, the Phillies replaced outfielder Dylan Cozens on the Glendale roster with Aaron Brown, their 2014 second-round pick. The Orioles added lefthander Tanner Scott to the Peoria roster, while the Rangers sent third baseman/catcher Jose Trevino to Surprise after big leaguer Ryan Rua refused the assignment, which was supposed to keep him fresh in case he was needed for the playoffs.