Top Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes has been given a 50-game suspension after testing positive for marijuana, according to a team release (h/t to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, via Twitter). Reyes, who had been pitching in the Arizona Fall League, expressed regret at his own “inappropriate behavior.”
Reyes, a 6’3 righty, has streaked up prospect boards and now rates as a consensus top-20 youngster league-wide. His AFL stint is now over, but because he was a member of that league he’ll be able to accumulate some time served in the offseason.
From a developmental perspective, the suspension is not likely to cause much of an interruption. The 21-year-old had ascended to Double-A last year, but likely was set to spend more time in the minors both to finish his polishing and to build up innings on his arm (which, presumably, is why he was working in the AFL). And whatever one thinks about marijuana use, or the merits of the league testing/suspending players for its use, the drug is obviously less harmful and concerning than other banned substances.
Still, the suspension is obviously not preferable for Reyes or the St. Louis organization. He has shown enough pure stuff — with a big fastball and plus curve — that he could conceivably factor into the club’s plans this year (more likely at the end than the start). With a need to refine his third pitch (a changeup) and hone his command, per MLB.com, the lost opportunity to play early in the season could have an impact on his timeline.
Suspensions of minor leaguers relating to marijuana are not a new phenomenon, but Reyes’s profile — along with the increasingly widespread legalization of the drug — could bring more attention to the issue. As Nathaniel Grow of Fangraphs has explained in breaking down the league’s treatment of the substance, only minor league players are subject to year-round random drug testing and harsh enforcement of the prohibition against marijuana use. (Reyes is not yet on the Cards’ 40-man roster.) According to that account, Reyes would only have been hit with this ban if it were his second positive test, as a first-time offender is only required to participate in a treatment program.