ST. LOUIS • He’s no longer raging through their league this summer, but Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes clearly left an impression on opposing managers and coaches in the Florida State League.
Reyes, who turns 21 at the end of this month, is now spinning for Class AA Springfield, where he has a 5.40 ERA in four starts and 20 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. The Cardinals view Class AA and Class AAA as the step before the majors, and Reyes got there by dominating the FSL. He struck out 119 batters in 80 innings over 18 starts. And, according to a poll of the managers and coaches in the FSL, he did so with …
• The best fastball in the league.
• The best breaking pitch in the league.
Oh, and they called him …
• The best pitching prospect in the league.
Baseball America is out this week with its annual tool box edition. It’s one of my favorite issues of the summer because it’s fun to read who managers and coaches think have the best power, the best defense at third, the best “hit-and-run artistry.” The magazine polls as many managers and coaches as possible in the majors, and they fan out through the minors to do the same thing.
The information that returns paints a picture of reputations as well as abilities. It’s a fascinating study for the majors because it does offer a hint as to how incumbency matters and how when one player gets a reputation for a skill the only thing that can really unlatch it is changing leagues or injury. An example this season would be Adam Wainwright. Annually one of the “best curveball” pitchers in the game, Wainwright didn’t crack the top three this season but, back from injury, Miami’s Jose Fernandez did.
The Cardinals’ coaching staff has not participated in the poll over the past few years, so the Cardinals who received votes did so from other staffs.
Here are the Cardinals who had top tools, in the majors:
BEST STRIKE-ZONE JUDGMENT
3. Matt Carpenter
BEST HIT-AND-RUN ARTIST
1(tie). Yadier Molina
3. Trevor Rosenthal
BEST DEFENSIVE CATCHER
1. Yadier Molina
2. Mike Matheny
Rosenthal ranks behind Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman and San Diego’s Craig Kimbrel, which when you think about it is right where he should rank. It’s interesting to note that he ranks ahead of Mark Melancon, the Pirates closer who has more saves. Managers and coaches seem to value power more than stats when it comes to the best reliever category. Keep that in mind as we move toward the minor-league poll in a few paragraphs.
Molina’s reputation for contact helps him win the hit-and-run each year.
And Matheny rates ahead of NL newcomer Joe Maddon in the manager poll. San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy remains No. 1. Historically, the ranking of the managers has been a reflection of the standings and postseason success.
In the minors, Reyes won the Tools Triple Crown as the Florida State League’s best pitching prospect, best fastball (he throws 101 mph), and best breaking pitch (it comes with power). The Cardinals had four players receive votes for top tools in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, and one rated with the best at the Texas League. They are:
PCL BEST STRIKE-ZONE JUDGMENT
Greg Garcia, Memphis
PCL BEST CONTROL
Tim Cooney, Memphis
PCL BEST RELIEVER
Sam Tuivailala, Memphis
PCL BEST DEFENSIVE OUTFIELDER
Tommy Pham, Memphis
TEXAS LEAGUE BEST DEFENSIVE 1B
Jonathan Rodriguez, Springfield
There is one tool in the majors that does not include a Cardinal and gives a hint about what to expect this winter when awards are handed out.
Kolten Wong, by several measures (including highlight totals, really), has had a strong defensive season. He ranks in the top eight at his position in Runs Saved and is a plus-10 on groundballs. He has some of the best range at his position in the majors, and he’s allowed the Cardinals to try more double plays with his arm strength.
And the NL isn’t impressed.
The best defensive 2B according to the poll of managers and coaches in the NL is Colorado Rockies infielder D.J. LeMahieu. He’s followed by a tie between Miami’s Dee Gordon and Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips. For many years, Phillips has been the standard defensively at his position in the National League, and he has the four Rawlings Gold Gloves awards as proof. The tools poll by Baseball America is noteworthy here for where Wong stands because it will be managers and coaches who vote on the Gold Glove award. Rawlings has expanded and improved its voting process to avoid some of the glitches of the past – and the St. Louis-based company as even integrated advanced metrics into its ballot – but the votes still come from managers and coaches.
And managers and coaches have LeMahieu, right now, as the best.