Well ... great.
One of the best parts of 2017 was shaping up to be the great unveiling of Alex Reyes, an electric talent who had already baffled major-leaguers to the tune of a 1.57 ERA over 46 innings late last year. He’s the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball, equipped with 101-mph fastball, a hammer curve and a changeup that was quickly growing into a weapon -- the perfect arsenal for missing bats aplenty, as he did throughout his minor-league career.
But now, he’s broken. Torn elbow ligament. A date with Tommy John in his future.
The surgery, not the man.
But in our disappointment -- which is, understandably, the first reaction -- we shouldn’t lose sight of the positives for Fantasy owners, because they do exist. They’re of little consolation to the keeper owner with a long-term investment in Reyes, but this injury gives the rest of us, particularly those who have nothing assembled yet for 2017, a little clarity.
For starters, there is no pressure to squeeze that sixth arm into the rotation anymore. Reyes was ready and the Cardinals wanted to have a spot for him, but because they threw tens of millions of dollars at Mike Leake last offseason, their best hope was to discover this spring that Michael Wacha’s shoulder was no longer able to hold up in the role. What kind of hope is that?
General manager John Mozeliak, perhaps not coincidentally, confirmed Wednesday that Wacha would be in the rotation “if he’s physically able.” So that’s clarity, right? You can draft Wacha knowing it’s his job to lose and without the fear that the Cardinals will use his recurring scapular issues as an excuse to bring in Reyes. And that wouldn’t be such a bad use of a late-round pick seeing as Wacha was a consensus top-30 starting pitcher heading into 2015 and 2016. He isn’t a bounce-back candidate on the level of Sonny Gray or Jordan Zimmermann given the ongoing injury concerns, but he’s the next rung down.
But what if Wacha isn’t physically able? Or if Lance Lynn isn’t quite right after his own Tommy John surgery? Or if Leake is just so bad that the Cardinals absolutely can’t stand it anymore? What then?
It’s not like they have no recourse. Luke Weaver is a pretty good prospect in his own right.
He’d be the No. 1 in many organizations, in fact. His transition to the majors didn’t go as smoothly as Reyes’, judging by his 5.70 ERA over nine appearances, including eight starts, but he averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings and had three starts that were nothing short of brilliant.
He throws in the mid-90s and reminds me a great deal of Corey Kluber with the movement he gets on his three-pitch arsenal. He also doesn’t have the kind of walk rate that could sabotage everything, unlike Reyes. In fact, you could make the argument that Weaver is actually more polished and just as deserving of an honest go.
You see there? I just did.
That’s not to say he’ll get it right out of spring training, which seemed more likely, but not guaranteed, for Reyes. Certainly, though, any one of Wacha’s, Lynn’s and Leake’s disaster scenarios could come to pass that early, and so I don’t see why Weaver should rank lower than other rotation hopefuls like Jose De Leon and Lucas Giolito. With this news, I have him sandwiched right between the two.
And for you keeper-league owners, there’s opportunity here, too. Not the ones who actually own Reyes -- they’re probably weeping into their pillows right now and not caring to read anything I have to say -- but for everyone else, buy low, baby.
Some higher-profile failures over the last few years have shown that Tommy John surgery isn’t the sure thing it was once thought to be, but it has a high enough success rate that you can assume a talent of Reyes’ ilk will still rank right up there with the best prospects in the game when he does return, presumably midway through 2018. And right now, his owner is looking for a lifeline, someone to bail out a failed investment. Why not lend a helping hand?
As you can see, this injury only drop Reyes from fourth to seventh in my top 100 Fantasy Baseball prospects. His upside counts for that much.