Playing the prospect game can be a dangerous and rather bittersweet experience.
The St. Louis Cardinals haven't experienced the best of luck with their highly touted prospects in the past ten years.
Oscar Taveras was picked to succeed Albert Pujols as the organization's next great hitter, but found his life cut short by a tragic car accident after a brief time in the Majors.
Alex Reyes, the untouchable, prized pitching prospect, has found his career limited in a variety of ways, both anatomical and personal. When it was revealed today that Reyes was still experiencing pectoral pain and would return to St. Louis for further diagnostics, the prospects of his return this season now seem dim.
It would mark three lost seasons in a row for the young right-hander, who has already missed use chunks of time due to a drug suspension, Tommy John surgery, and a torn lat muscle. This year, it's been a self-induced broken hand and the aforementioned pectoral muscle issue. Like I said, a mix of bad luck health and disciplinary problems.
One could make the argument that Reyes' mindset isn't fit for the big leagues. When you break the rules and find yourself punching walls after a bad outing, further impeding your path to a place where kids dream of, the doubts on your mentality can be easy to conjure up.
Reyes' 2019 season with the Cardinals will end with an earned run average of 15.00 after just three outings in the first week of the season. The final outing he allowed a home run and three earned runs against San Diego, where he threw 26 pitches. On the season, Reyes has only thrown 71 pitches in the Major Leagues.
The 53 innings total thrown at the highest level is absurdly low if you didn't know much about Reyes and saw he was set to enter arbitration next year. In his three years of service, Reyes showed the most promise back in 2016 when he offered 52 strikeouts in 46 innings, mixing in five starts in 12 appearances. Everything since has been a letdown.
Where does he go from here? The 2020 season still holds promise, if a redacted and slightly less excited one. Imagine a blockbuster motion picture set to release in theaters in summer, but then delayed by a year or two by off-screen drama and problems. The hype would die off a bit, even if the spectacle held up. Cardinals' fans still want to know what Reyes has in store, but he will be 25 in three weeks, so the appeal has moderately deadened.
When you offer up seven innings inside three seasons, a former prized prospect will find himself on the underdog stage, which may be perfect for Reyes. Here's a guy who has always seemed a little off when the spotlight came his way. Sure, he was relatively cool and calm under pressure, but perhaps the entrance overwhelmed him. People understate the taxing mental weight that pitching in the big leagues can produce.
Here's the thing. Long wait or not, advanced age and all, Reyes is still someone to watch and look for. If he finds the health that has been fleeting for more than two years now, he can still get swings and misses from hitters. A year ago, he was mowing down hitters in a rehab assignment, destined to impact the Cardinals before the lat injury shut him down. You don't just lose that ability to defeat hitters. Up to this point, Reyes' body has done a better job of defeating his chances of reaching the promised land, but there's still time.
While it's been disappointing so far, Reyes can still make a dent. It won't cost much to hold onto him in 2020 and see what he can do with a fresh bill of health. You won't have to pay him much more than the league minimum, and could even slip some incentives into the deal to entice Reyes to stay in check.
Let's put it this way. If the Cardinals can employ Tyler Webb and Mike Mayers for parts of this season, you can still keep an eye on Alex Reyes, who has more talent in his pinkie than both of those pitchers.
There's a part of me that is fed up with Reyes and his unreachable promise, but there's also a fair portion of my baseball soul that needs to see where his talent ends and the team's future without him begins.
It's best for fans and Reyes to simply forget about the past three years of missing production and think of the future strikeouts instead. Sometimes, prospects simply don't pan out. Sometimes, they disappoint, falling short of expectations. The Reyes book has some pages already written in it but is still far from finished.