Alex Reyes will be out 12-18 months
When pitchers and catchers reported for duty starting on Monday, spring training, as well as the 2017 baseball season, was officially under way. Unfortunately, not even three days into the season, we have our first major injury casualty, as the St. Louis Cardinals announced that 23-year-old right-hander Alex Reyes will undergo Tommy John Surgery to repair a partially torn UCL in his pitching elbow. Reyes, the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball, having been ranked #1 overall by Baseball Prospectus and #4 by Baseball America, will miss the entire 2017 season, one where he was expected to compete for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, while also helping to anchor the Cardinals rotation in their quest to return to the postseason.
While teammate Adam Wainwright pitched through a partially torn UCL in the past, after Reyes reported feeling discomfort while throwing on Tuesday, he underwent an MRI which revealed the tear, and soon after elected for surgery. This is not the first time Reyes has dealt with elbow problems; in 2013, he was sidelined for two months with an elbow strain. At the time, Reyes received plasma rich injections, which allowed his elbow to heal enough to allow him to pitch pain free for the past three seasons. This time, the elbow was torn beyond the point of rehab, and Reyes will undergo surgery that will keep him out of action for anywhere from 12-18 months.
One positive for Reyes is that he’s getting the surgery out of the way at the age of 22, meaning he will be ready to start again full time by the age of 24. With a completely reconstructed elbow free of wear and tear, it is scary to think how Reyes’ surgery may look post-rehab, given his fastball already touches 100 MPH regularly.
For the Cardinals, this is a tough blow for sure, especially as they retooled this offseason in an attempt to reclaim the NL Central from the Cubs. However, not all is lost for the Cardinals rotation. In Carlos Martinez, the Redbirds still have one of baseball’s most exciting young starters, having finished 2016 with a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA, 174 strikeouts, and 5.9 WAR, all of which ranked in the top ten of the NL. Behind Martinez, Adam Wainwright is one year further removed from a torn Achilles that cost him most of the 2015 season, which should only make him more comfortable on the mound, helping him to regain some of his ace-stuff that wasn’t always around in a rough 2016. Mike Leake should provide the Cardinals with a consistent inning eating presence, with an average of 180 innings per season over his seven-year big league career. Getting Lance Lynn back from Tommy John Surgery will also be big for the Cardinals, as from 2014-20 15, Lynn won 27 games while averaging 174 strikeouts, 189 innings pitched, and ERAs of 2.74 and 3.03. Anchoring the Cardinals rotation will either be Michael Wacha, who despite battling shoulder injuries the past few seasons has shown he has top of the rotation potential, (winning the 2013 NLCS MVP) and Luke Weaver, the Cardinals #2 pitching prospect, who did struggle in his first taste of the bigs in 2016, but also displayed his swing and miss stuff by striking out 45 hitters in 36.1 innings.
While Reyes’ 2016 production was certainly electric, with a 4-1 record, 1.57 ERA in twelve games and fifty-two strikeouts in 46 innings, the Cardinals are fortunate enough to have the starting pitching depth to absorb the blow. Additionally, by adding Brett Cecil to form a three-headed relief pitching monster with Trevor Rosenthal and Seung Hwan Oh, in addition to reliable bullpen arms such as Jonathan Broxton and Kevin Siegrist, the Cards will be able to shorten the game for their starters like never before. While it is certainly not easy to lose a top prospect this early in the season, the Cardinals appear poised to be able to overcome the injury to Alex Reyes and compete in the National League this season.