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TOP 10 PROSPECTS
|1. Alex Reyes, rhp|
|2. Luke Weaver, rhp|
|3. Delvin Perez, ss|
|4. Carson Kelly, c|
|5. Magneuris Sierra, of|
|6. Sandy Alcantara, rhp|
|7. Harrison Bader, of|
|8. Edmundo Sosa, ss|
|9. Dakota Hudson, rhp|
|10. Eliezer Alvarez, 2b|
As October proved it could do just fine without them and their archrival soared to heights not seen in generations, the Cardinals found comfort in something they did subtly and strategically, under the surface of the standings that turned so sour.
With an abundance of draft picks and a cap-busting spending spree on international talents, the Cardinals feel they replenished their farm system. General manager John Mozeliak referred to it as the “deepest” he had seen in his tenure. What it lacked in advanced prospects, it had in impact talent percolating the lower ranks. The Cardinals believed they could maintain their place as a contender while transitioning to a younger team, one that can close the gap on the new kings of the National League Central, the Cubs.
Mozeliak had one word for the team he imagines: “Exciting.”
That was not an adjective that applied to the 2016 Cardinals as they thundered their way to an 86-76 record with a curious club. The Cardinals wanted more power and got it with 225 homers, the second-most in club history. But the tradeoff was crippling. A franchise known for its crisp play, coming off one of the best run-prevention seasons in history, saw its fundamentals fray. The Cardinals had one of the most unreliable defenses in the league. The pitching crumpled as a result. Both kept the team from keeping pace—17 ½ games back of the Cubs—and left them, for the first time since 2010, out of the postseason.
To reclaim a seat in October, Mozeliak set out to establish a more athletic lineup and a more agile defense, one that can keep clean the real engine of contention for the Cardinals, their rotation. Budding ace Carlos Martinez will be joined by future ace Alex Reyes and established ace Adam Wainwright. The Cardinals spent $82.5-million to bring center fielder Dexter Fowler from the top of the Cubs’ lineup to the top of theirs. Mozeliak committed to the athletic Kolten Wong as their everyday second baseman and personification of the improvement.
For the past half dozen years, Mozeliak has stressed athleticism in the draft, wanting to find it and pitching whenever possible to overcome the Cardinals’ annually low selection. With his first pick as scouting director, Randy Flores picked a caliber of player the Cardinals rarely have had a shot at: top-five talent Delvin Perez. The teenage shortstop fell to No. 23 because of a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. The Cardinals took the risk and acquired a player a lot like what they sought in every corner of the amateur ranks. Through the first half of the international signing window, the Cardinals had blown past their $2 million limit and signed four $1 million bonuses. Cuban center fielder Jonatan Machado ($2.3 million) alone surpassed the spending limit.
All of this was done to close what the Cardinals recognize as a “gap” in their system. With the graduation of Stephen Piscotty to the everyday lineup in 2016 and Alex Reyes to the rotation in 2017, there is a low tide before the next crest of elite talent. It collected at the low minors in 2016, where the Cardinals won league titles at their three lowest affiliates: the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Rookie-level Johnson City (Appalachian League), and short-season State College (New York-Penn League). That deep group of talent is the reinforcements the Cardinals believe will keep them in perpetual contention.
1. Alex Reyes, rhp |
Born: Aug. 29, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2012. Signed by: Rodney Jimenez/Angel Ovalles.
|Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.|
Background: When he decided to leave his home and family in New Jersey to see if baseball would take notice of him in the Dominican Republic, Reyes packed his dreams of being a third baseman, a glove, some cleats and a few bats. He wouldn’t need the latter for long. Born and raised in Elizabeth, N.J., the righthander skipped his prom and graduation to live with his grandmother and become eligible as an international amateur, if he could draw the scouts. He did with one move—to the mound. Reyes volunteered to throw when his Dominican team ran out of pitchers one day, and after flashing a power fastball a trainer gave him advice: “Stick to pitching,” Reyes recalled. As his velocity increased, scouts swarmed. The Cardinals signed him to a $950,000 bonus, winning a bidding war against the Astros and Royals. He zoomed through the minors, but late in 2015, at the Arizona Fall League, was hit with a 50-game suspension for marijuana use. That delayed his 2016 debut but not his arrival in the majors.
Scouting Report: The Cardinals see Reyes as a stronger, taller, broader version of a pitcher with whom he’ll share the rotation: Carlos Martinez. Reyes operates at the highest registers when it comes to velocity. He averaged 97 mph on his fastball in the majors, routinely worked from 96-100 with it, and an opposing team clocked him in the minors at 102. He can maintain that power late into his starts and spot it up in the zone. Almost 45 percent of his outs (1,003) came on strikeouts (449) in the minors. His fastball has been described as “elite.” With it, he mixes a hard, hammer curve that unnerves the first batter that sees it in every game. It too is a plus pitch, and increasingly in the majors his strikeouts came off the curve, or soon after a hitter saw it. Reyes’ changeup profiles as a plus pitch, though he’s had less consistency with it, and he is working on a cutter/slider that can get him access to both sides of the plate. Reyes throws across his body and his mechanics, like his command, can fluctuate. To pitch deeper into games he has to become more efficient with his pitch count (reducing a 4.4 walks per nine rate), and a root cause coaches feel is finding a rhythm for his delivery so that he can repeat it. He has the wide shoulders and tree-trunk legs to hog innings.
The Future: If other teams’ interest is any measure of a prospect, then Reyes is poised for stardom. The Cardinals had difficulty finding an impact trade for an outfielder because other teams wanted Reyes. That was a non-starter for the Cardinals, who intend to have Reyes a permanent part of the rotation starting in 2017. He’ll be an early-season favorite for Rookie of the Year, and in the years to come could emerge as that rare, power-packed, bona fide ace.
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