The Nationals’ draft strategy last week was clear: Stockpile college pitchers, who usually rise through the minors quicker than high school picks, to replenish their reserve. Nine of their first 10 picks and 19 of their 40 overall were college pitchers. It was a practical blueprint given that Washington traded Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, two prospects knocking on the big league door, over the winter.
While the trade thinned the Nationals’ pitching prospect crop, a few intriguing names, topped by Erick Fedde, remain. Luis Reyes is one. Washington signed Reyes out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 for $85,000 – a discount given he was 18, old by Dominican prospect standards. Other 18-year-old Dominicans the Nationals have signed on the cheap include Wilmer Difo, Rafael Bautista and Lopez.
Reyes, now 22, is repeating High-A with Potomac this season after struggling there in 2016, and the overall numbers aren’t particularly encouraging; he has a 4.75 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 14 starts. But the right-hander has shown flashes of potential, most recently earlier this month. The wiry 6-foot-2 right-hander was named the Carolina League’s pitcher of the week for June 5-11 after allowing two hits, striking out 10, and walking none over eight scoreless innings. The performance completed a five-start stretch in which he allowed five earned runs 31 1/3 innings with 42 strikeouts and four weeks.
He’s since allowed 10 runs over nine innings in his past two starts, but the Nationals view that five-start sample as evidence of his capabilities.
“The thing that was so appealing was his ability to spin the ball,” Nationals pitching coordinator Paul Menhart said. “He has a feel for three pitches. But what we were trying to do was be able to repeat that. So he’s gotten stronger the last couple of years. He went through some growing pains just in general. This year, we’re starting to see all the hard work he has done to get himself stronger, to be able to repeat his delivery.”
Reyes’s arsenal centers on a four-seam fastball that tops out in the mid-90s, a two-seamer, and a curveball. He also throws a change-up he’s worked on developing in recent years. But his off-field progression, Menhart maintained, has had just as substantial of an impact.
“Honestly, what he’s done is just matured as a man,” Menhart said. “He’s gotten used to the culture over here. You get that quite a bit with the Latin players that come over here, especially in their teens and low 20s. they have almost like a grace period. They have to get used to here and this culture and having such things that we take for granted. And he’s matured. Last year when things didn’t go his way he wouldn’t handle it very well. This year, he’s been able to handle adversity a lot better and minimize the damage.”
Menhart said the organization has discussed promoting Reyes to Class AA Harrisburg before the end of the season. He’ll need to string together a few more quality starts, but it’s a possibility.
“We’ve got a plan for him and we’d like to see him have success,” Menhart said. “And to have success builds confidence and that’s what we’re hoping for from him.”