It wasn’t that long ago that Alex Reyes was arguably baseball’s best pitching prospect — a power right-hander heralded as the Cardinals’ ace of the future, Injuries, however, have decimated Reyes’ past few years. Tommy John surgery plus lat and pectoral strains have limited him to a combined 195 2/3 innings in the past four seasons (despite working almost exclusively as a starter in that time). Still just 25 years of age, Reyes tells Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he hopes to continue as a starter now that he’s healthy, but president of baseball operations John Mozeliak suggests that’s not likely — at least this season.
“It’s going to be tough for him to break our rotation given the talent and the names we have in it,” Mozeliak tells Hummel. “We are going to bring him to camp and stretch him out the best we can. But I think the likelihood of how he most likely contributes to the Cardinals in 2020 is in the bullpen.”
The Cardinals’ rotation consists of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright. Fifth-starter candidates include Carlos Martinez (who was forced into a relief role by injuries in 2019) and winter pickup Kwang-Hyun Kim, who could work in either the rotation or the ’pen. Right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon and lefties Genesis Cabrera and Austin Gomber are depth options on the 40-man roster. One would imagine that a healthy Martinez is the best option, but he did excel in a relief capacity in 2019 (3.17 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 9.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.37 HR/9, 56.5 percent ground-ball rate).
Turning back to Reyes, it’s indeed difficult to see how the club could expect him to function as a starter in the short term. He’s thrown just 84 1/3 innings in the past three seasons, including just 40 1/3 frames in 2019. Dropping him back into a starter’s workload would necessitate an enormous increase in his total innings and pitches thrown — and that’s particularly problematic for a pitcher who has never even tossed 120 frames in a single season; Reyes’ career-high innings total is 115 1/3 all the way back in 2015.
That’s not to say that the talented righty doesn’t have any sort of future in the rotation, but between the organization’s pitching depth and Reyes’ injury history, it’s easy to see why the club has its sights set on a relief role in 2020. Looking down the line, Wainwright is only playing on a one-year deal, while Kim is being paid $4MM in both 2020 and 2021. A strong relief effort for Reyes this coming season could well lead to a look as a starter in 2021, but he’ll first need to prove his arm can hold up. The Cardinals control Reyes through the 2023 season.