GENEVA, Ill. - Just days before his 20th birthday, Peoria Chiefs pitcher Alex Reyes hit 100 mph in a game against Clinton, Ia.
Triple digits is impressive, Chiefs’ pitching coach Jason Simontacchi cautioned him, but location is more important.
The easy-going, affable right-hander took it all in stride, like he has much of his professional baseball career thus far.
But he doesn’t take it for granted.
Reyes, from Elizabeth, NJ, moved with his family to the Dominican Republic for his senior year of high school, the family rolling the dice that the talented youngster might have a better chance to be discovered there. He was scouted by several major league teams, but mostly as a third baseman. It wasn’t until he told the Cardinals’ scout that he could also pitch a little that he generated substantial interest. The Cards signed him at 18-years-old and after a rookie league season, placed him in Peoria under Simontacchi and skipper Joe Kruzel.
“The last few games, Alex has showed us what the scouts and the organization saw in him,” Simontacchi said. “I was very truthful with him. I told him ‘you came into this season as a boy but I give you credit. You had to make some decisions (about your future) and you decided to start getting after it.’ He started believing in his stuff and learned to control what he can control. Now, he controls the game. He’s just shut them down.”
The stats from the last 10 games bear that out. Reyes was languishing early in the season at 4-5 with an ERA approaching 5. And then the light went on.
“His last three starts have been tremendous,” said Chiefs manager Joe Kruzel. “He cut down on the walks and has much better command of his pitches. He was throwing quality strikes. He’s got a lot to learn about holding runners, fielding his position, all that, but he’s made progress and that’s a good sign.”
The turning point for Reyes came in late June and continued through the end of the season. In his last 10 starts, he went 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 73 punch-outs in 54 innings. More impressively, as Kruzel pointed out, Reyes in his last four starts averaged 10 strikeouts and just one walk.
“I really finished strong. It just started to click with Simo and what he had been telling me. My mentality changed a lot. It was tough for me to focus, to get in that proper mindset. I sat down and reminded myself how I got here and why I was here. And more importantly, where I wanted to be.”
That, perhaps more than the velocity, is what impressed Simontacchi the most about Reyes’ development. “Everybody has that moment. I gave him credit for understanding where he was and for getting after it.”
The key for Reyes, Simontacchi said, will be what he does in the off-season to continue his development, an admonition not lost on Reyes.
“I can’t wait for this off-season,” Reyes said. “Me and Rob (Kaminsky) are going to work out together (near their New Jersey homes) and then I’m going to the Dominican Republic in about November to continue my work-outs.
“I’m going to continue to refine my pitches and my location and I’m going to be in shape next spring.”