St. Louis Cardinals: Despite setbacks, don’t count out Alex Reyes

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Stater Alex Reyes #61 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after recording the third out with the bases loaded against the Cincinnati Reds in the sixth inning at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Stater Alex Reyes #61 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after recording the third out with the bases loaded against the Cincinnati Reds in the sixth inning at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

With the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals campaign fully underway, I’d like to shine a spotlight on the once highly touted prospect Alex Reyes who has overcome multiple season-ending injuries, his daughter battling cancer, and sky-high expectations.

August 10, 2016. It’s hard to imagine it was a little over two and a half years since Alex Reyes’ Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds. He had just come off a start five days earlier for the AAA affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals the Memphis Redbirds in which he recorded eight strikeouts in six innings pitched while walking two.

It was the top of the ninth inning against the 46-67 struggling Reds. A calm and collected Reyes took the once-in-a-lifetime trot out to the mound from the outfield bullpen and proceeded to throw a perfect one-two-three inning. He notched his first career strikeout against his first batter faced in the form of a 101 mph high heater to Adam Duvall along with two ground balls in an eleven pitch effort.

After the game, an ecstatic Reyes, fresh off one of the single most memorable moments in his young career spoke of the adrenaline and excitement that led up to that moment saying “It’s amazing, it’s a dream come true. Ever since I’ve been playing little league and stuff, this kind of moment I’ve dreamed about. I mean I was out there having fun and it turned out pretty well.”

Reyes was a coveted prospect at the time racking up several accolades including a selection to pitch in the All-Star futures game for team World, along with a Florida State League mid-season All-Star selection in 2015. At the onset of the 2016 season, ranked him the tenth-best prospect in the entire minor leagues. He then was selected again for the All-Star futures game as the starting pitcher for that 11-3 win.

The point being this Alex Reyes guy from Elizabeth, New Jersey, is supposed to be top of the rotation stuff. Like perennial all-star potential. His pitching repertoire backs this claim as he features a plus fastball in the high 90s, a devastating, wipeout curve that he can locate for strikes, an above average slider, and a developing changeup.

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He looked promising in his first stint in the Majors posting a 1.57 ERA with a 4-1 record in 46 innings pitched. Perhaps the most impressive numbers were his strikeout totals topping out at 52 paired with10.2 strikeouts per 9 innings to go along with only 1 home run given up. He showed St. Louis that his stuff was legit and that he could get major league batters out. It was just a matter of staying healthy and proving he can pitch every five days in a major league rotation.

But then the injuries happened. In February of 2017, just a year removed from his impressive 2016 showing, it was discovered that he had a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. Tommy John surgery would be necessary to repair his elbow essentially ending any chance of pitching in the 2017 season.

Unfortunately, the injuries didn’t stop there. After recovering from Tommy John surgery during the 2017 season, Reyes had his sights set on climbing his way back to the big league St. Louis Cardinals roster yet again. Throughout four minor league rehab starts in the A Peoria, A+ Palm Beach, AA Springfield, and AAA Memphis, Reyes dazzled tossing 23 scoreless innings while striking out 44 of the 82 batters he faced.

Then he got his redemption. The wait was over. His long-awaited debut from Tommy John surgery was against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 30, 2018. A year and a half of grinding and conditioning, in order to recover from his elbow surgery, led up to this start. It was a feat to celebrate. A time of reflection.

But the celebration was short lived. During his brief four-inning start against the Brewers, a noticeable dip in his fastball velocity proved to be a significant cause of concern. Alarming enough that manager Mike Matheny and the team’s trainer visited the mound to talk about any discomfort he might be experiencing.

A day after his season debut, Reyes was placed on the 10 day DL as news surfaced that it was some sort of significant lat strain. Surgery would be needed to reattach a tendon in his right lat, essentially ending his season just as quickly as it began. The injury was similar to what former Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy and Mets starter Noah Syndergaard have dealt with in their careers. Although not quite as severe, a six month time period of recovery was expected.

Publicly speaking for the first time since his lat injury, Reyes revealed a very personal circumstance he was dealing with on top of his young professional career being derailed by injuries. His daughter, Aleyka, was battling cancer. Aleyka was diagnosed with neuroblastoma as just five months old which is a type of cancer that forms in nerves cells of infants.

He used his daughter as a type of motivation saying “I felt like, if my daughter fought for her life, I can fight for my career. That’s pretty much what’s been in my head.” I can only imagine the sort of fear and anxiety that can come from a loved one, let alone your own daughter fighting for her life.

In another statement, Reyes reiterated his determined state of mind saying “Whatever my career puts in front of me I’m going to attack it and I’m gonna try and get myself 100 percent no matter what. Hopefully, I’ll be back in this clubhouse next year and this will all be behind me.”

Despite his two potentially career-ending injuries, his daughter battling for her life in a bout with cancer, and the expectations to live up to his number one prospect potential, Reyes performed well in Spring Training and earned a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster along with high praise from the Redbirds manager Mike Shildt. Shildt had this to say in Spring Training about Alex Reyes “I think Alex has more than proved himself. He’s in a great spot, looks good.”

Heading into the 2019 campaign, Reyes needed to retire just one batter in order to rid himself of the ‘prospect’ classification. Perhaps a minor detail, but I could only imagine how satisfying that must be to a pitcher such as Reyes who has overcome so much and has battled through so many obstacles just to be in the position he is today.

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This brings me back to the point of this entire article. A slow start isn’t ideal for anyone involved, but if there’s one guy St. Louis can count on stepping up to the figurative plate (pun intended) it’s Alex Reyes. He’s done so much to get to this point in his career, all he needs to know is put it all together and pitch the way we know he can.