Playing the percentages is a proven baseball strategy, whether looking at pitcher/batter matchups, calling for an intentional walk or determining the batting order.
Playing the percentages also helped St. Louis Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes kick off his baseball career.
Reyes, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Cardinals system, decided to leave his Elizabeth, New Jersey, home his senior year of high school and move to the Dominican Republic. It was a decision based on the idea that Reyes would get more exposure due to a higher ratio of scouts to players in the Dominican Republic.
"I worked out with Emmanuel Sena," Reyes said. "He was the one who guided me, since I was young. He thought it would be best for me to go this route. My parents and I sat down and talked about it, and we decided to go for it."
Reyes, who is 6-6 with a 3.89 ERA in 18 starts for Peoria this season, avoided the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with the move to the Dominican Republic. He had to wait one year, per MLB rules, as an American citizen to become eligible to sign as an international free agent.
"I just thought it was … I don't want to say 'easier,' because it was hard, but I thought it would work out for me better," Reyes said. "I just wanted to go there and have fun and have a shot to play professional baseball. At the end of the day, I had some tryouts with other teams, but I tried out with the Cardinals three times and when I was at their academy I liked the way they carried their team, the atmosphere. It's really nice to be a Cardinal."
Reyes moved in with his grandparents in the Dominican Republic and worked through an agent to play baseball and showcase his talents. He said moving for the exposure with scouts was largely economical.
"It was hard to work out in the offseason in New Jersey," Reyes said. "I couldn't just fly down to Jupiter [Florida] and be on AAU teams. It's really expensive. I wasn't that fortunate. I was on a travel team that wanted to charge me $8,000 to go to Jupiter and play ball down there. Those are all wonderful tournaments and experiences, but $8,000 for exposure? The DR offered me the same chances to be seen, maybe even better."
As scouts noticed Reyes' talent, he discovered the benefits of free agency and chose to sign with the Cardinals in December 2012 with a $950,000 bonus.
"I didn't go there to just look for choice," Reyes said. "I went there to have a chance to play professional baseball. My chance of being seen by scouts was better. I really didn't think the move to the Dominican Republic was a risk. I figured if it didn't work out, I'd come back to New Jersey and go to school. It's rare to do it this way, but it worked out."
Reyes, who has been clocked at 96 mph, has impressed the Cardinals as a 19-year-old prospect.
"The things we looked at this year for him were developing a changeup, obviously keeping his curveball and getting his command on his fastball," Peoria pitching coach Jason Simontacchi said. "He has a lot of walks [57 in 90 1/3 innings], but for a kid his age, and the velocity he throws at, he can get away with a lot.
"Sometimes he thinks he needs to be too fine, and that's hurt him with his fastball. You think, 'Oh, wow, you throw it 95 -- just throw it across the plate,' but that's not what we're looking for. We want quality pitches."
Reyes is making strides in his development. In his last start, he pitched six scoreless innings against Burlington, allowing only two hits. He struck out 11 and walked two.
"With him taking a step back, taking the focus off the curveball and fastball to learn the change-up, he's lost a little bit of command with his pitches, but a year ago, he was only throwing a change-up two or three times in a game, and now, he's throwing the change-up 15, 16, 17 times a game," Simontacchi said. "The work he's put into developing that pitch is starting to show. For him to be a starter in the big leagues, he has to have three pitches."
Swing time: Alex Reyes was one of six Peoria pitchers who combined to strike out 23 Burlington batters in 14 innings Tuesday night. Reyes struck out 11 in six innings, and five relievers combined for the rest. Rowan Wick's two-run homer in the top of the 14th propelled the Chiefs to the 4-2 win.
Going deep: The Clinton LumberKings only hit nine home runs in the month of July, but they've already bettered that output in August. Clinton has 11 homers in August, including 10 during a recent 10-game homestand.
New record-holder: Great Lakes reliever Jacob Rhame set a Loons' franchise record when he pitched his 23rd consecutive inning without giving up a run. Rhame's mark tops the previous franchise best of 22 1/3 innings set by Mark Pope earlier this season. Rhame has struck out 33, walked five and allowed 10 hits during his current streak. Rhame's exploits highlight an impressive run by the Great Lakes bullpen, which has allowed only 15 earned runs in its last 26 games (1.20 ERA) and has an overall ERA of 2.47.