ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals love power arms, and there are few arms in their system as powerful as the right arm of Anthony Reyes.
The University of Southern California product lights up radar guns with an explosive fastball and buckles knees with a power curveball. If there were such a thing as a power changeup, he'd throw that, but instead he settles for what can at times be a baffling change-of-pace.
With only one full season as a professional, Reyes has emerged as probably the most exciting pitcher in the St. Louis system. He dominated the Double-A Southern League last year, and after an early bump or two, he's been impressive in Major League Spring Training this year. He's ticketed for Triple-A Memphis -- he's already been told that -- but it may not be a long stay. That's why MLB.com is spotlighting Reyes as a prospect to watch in the St. Louis organization.
"I didn't really know what to expect," he said. "This was only my second Spring Training. So I'm just kind of going through it, and every day, whatever happens, happens. Hopefully I keep pitching well. We'll see what happens. But they basically told me I'm going to go down."
Along with scintillating stuff and improving command, Reyes has an idea of how to pitch. It also helps that he's receptive to learning lessons, and he's paying attention to what happens when he throws certain things to certain hitters. Reyes said he's picked up more in 11 1/3 innings of pitching to Major League hitters this March than in 10 times that many frames in the Florida State and Southern leagues.
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Top prospect: Anthony Reyes
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"You can't compare," Reyes said. "You can learn more up here than you can in a whole minor league season. There's no comparison. It's a different game up here. Pitching up here you learn so much that you can go back down and hopefully apply."
One lesson is not to give up or give in. In his first start, Reyes served up a two-run double to Mike Piazza, but it didn't shake him. He bounced back nicely from a rocket of a homer by Sammy Sosa in a game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The guy with the straight bill on his cap is not easily rattled.
"What I saw was a guy who didn't get flustered," said manager Tony La Russa after the game against Sosa and the Orioles. "He came back out and just dialed it up a little more. That's a good sign. He's got a lot to work with. I think that's probably the most important comment to make for him."
Reyes has stuck around in camp longer than any of the Cards' other prospects, with the dispatch of Adam Wainwright to the minors on Wednesday. He's the only pitcher other than the Redbirds' scheduled five-man rotation to make a start for St. Louis this spring. So while he's not going to make the team, he's definitely being watched. Closely.
Assuming Reyes stays healthy, he's on the fast track to the Majors. But health has been the biggest problem for a pitcher once considered a potential first-round pick. Injuries slowed his college career and ultimately helped relegate him to the 15th round of the 2003 draft. So along with learning his craft, he also needs to show he can rack up innings.
"It would be nice if they were to move him along so he has a whole year at Triple-A or however much he needs," La Russa said. "But the history of organizations nowadays is when you have a need and a guy is that talented, sometimes you rush him. I hope we don't have to. ... I hope that we're always able to have an alternative so that we don't have to push a guy who has that kind of future."
For now, they have alternatives. How long those alternatives will be better than Reyes is unclear.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.