St. Louis Cardinals: Alex Reyes deserves an expanded role in 2021

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Yadier Molina #4 congratulates Alex Reyes #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals after defeating the San Diego Padres 7-4 in Game One of the National League Wild Card Series at PETCO Park on September 30, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Yadier Molina #4 congratulates Alex Reyes #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals after defeating the San Diego Padres 7-4 in Game One of the National League Wild Card Series at PETCO Park on September 30, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

There were no expectations around Alex Reyes in 2020 but after he came up huge in big spots in 2020, the St. Louis Cardinals should expand his role in 2021.

Alex Reyes has been through a lot since his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. At that time, he was a top-10 prospect in baseball with front-of-the-rotation stuff that was ready to take the league by storm.

When he did debut in the bullpen, all of the potential was obvious. However, tough times fell on the righty. Injury after injury, comeback after comeback Reyes was held out of baseball and away from the pitching mound. From 2017-2019, Reyes threw just 7.0 MLB innings, not throwing at all in 2017.

Understandably, there were no expectations for him when he came into spring training healthy in 2020. The Cardinals were just looking to see if Reyes could get some positive momentum.

Even once the COVID-19 shutdown ended, Reyes was delayed after he himself contracted the virus. Eventually though, he returned to the Cardinals and had an electric year.

On the whole, Reyes had a 3.20 ERA in 15 appearances spanning 19.2 innings. He allowed just 6.4 hits per nine, 0.5 homers per nine, and struck out an amazing 12.4 batters per nine. Even after all the injuries and slimming down his body, the stuff was still there.

Reyes still touched triple digits with his fastball and averaged 97.5 mph on the pitch. He mixed in a slider, curveball, sinker, and changeup as well. In my eyes, Reyes’ best pitch this year was his curveball. Averaging 81.9 mph, the pitch had a wickedly-high average spin rate of 2902, and on a 22-degree axis with an amazing 100% spin efficiency, Reyes got the most out of that pitch.

By that, I mean that Reyes threw the third-best curveball in the MLB this year by movement. The only two pitchers ahead of him were Trevor Bauer and Garrett Richards. Of the top 10, Reyes threw his curve the fastest on average as well. Enough about his curve though.

The only real problem Reyes had in 2020 was his command. His hits, strikeouts, and homer rates were fantastic, but his walk rate was 6.4 batters per nine. Sadly, that is not going to due as a sustainable rate for a pitcher in the MLB. To be fair, command has always been an issue with Reyes and is usually the thing that takes the longest to regain control of after injuries. I don’t think it is far fetched to assume that will improve at least a little bit in 2021.

The exciting thing about Reyes is that he had the most appearances in the 8th inning than any other. He was putting up these numbers at the back ends of games and did so in the playoffs as well, closing out game one and finishing game three.

In 2021, Reyes’ role should increase even more. He has some experience under his belt now, and the Cardinals would be fools not to increase his role. Increasing it to what is the big question.

As of right now, the Cardinals have Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller, John Gant, John Brebbia, Jordan Hicks, and Ryan Helsley all coming back as options for the back end of the bullpen. Reyes could outshine all of them though in a closer role.

Can a closer walk as many batters as Reyes does and still succeed? Well sure, it just depends on how much heart medication you like to take. Let’s venture back all the way back to 2014 and 2015. Do you remember the closer at the time?

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2015 was the year that 25-year-old Trevor Rosenthal broke the Cardinals’ single-season saves record with 48. He had a 2.10 ERA that year, but looking at 2014 and 2015 together, Rosey had 93 total saves and a 2.65 ERA. However, he sometimes made the ninth inning a rollercoaster, mostly because of walks.

In those two years, Rosey walked 4.3 batters per nine while allowing 7.7 hits per nine, 0.3 homers per nine, and striking out 11 batters per nine. If Reyes can keep his other rates the same and drop his walk rate down to what it was in 2016 (4.5), then he will look a lot like Rosenthal did in 2014-2015 but with better stuff. That could be the recipe for a dominant closer.

Going in another direction, the Cardinals could try and have Reyes make the leap to the starting rotation depending on how that shakes out before 2021. The rotation was full coming into 2020, but now Dakota Hudson will be out for the entirety of 2021, Adam Wainwright might be hanging up his cleats, and we don’t know what we can expect from Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas. There may also be regression on the way for Kwang Hyun Kim.

Making the jump to the rotation would be the most ambitious move for Reyes, but again, if he can limit his walks, he could be dominant there. I’m not sure Reyes has the ace potential anymore, but a 2-3 starter could still be in the cards for the 26-year-old. Prior to his return to the bullpen in the middle of the 2020 season, Reyes was getting stretched out as a starter without any null effects on his arm.

This high risk, high reward option will probably come down to whether or not there is a need. The rotation is anything but set for 2020, but beyond the options we listed before, Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore, Johan Oviedo, and Jake Woodford about ready to jump in.

No matter what the Cardinals decide to do with Reyes, one thing is fair to say: Reyes will have expectations for him in 2021. He’s proving he is still a valuable asset that can contribute. He shouldn’t be just a seventh-inning reliever in 2021 if he’s healthy.

Next. A core transition period is coming. dark

Alex Reyes was a stud in 2020, even if he walked too many batters. In 2021, he’s ready for more of a role.