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Redbirds in AFL: Cards crew led by league's top prospect

Alex Reyes arrived in the Arizona Fall League as the consensus top pitching prospect in the developmental circuit. In his first four starts for the Surprise Saguaros, he has lived up to that reputation.

The Cardinals' right-hander has lived in the mid-90s with his fastball and touched 100 mph several times. He also has unleashed some hammer curveballs and flashed some changeups that dropped at the plate.

Reyes, 21, breezed through his first three outings, allowing one run while striking out 12 in 11 2/3 innings. However, his seven walks testified to his inconsistent control and command -- and that caught up to him in his fourth start, on Monday.

After opening with three scoreless innings against the Scottsdale Scorpions, Reyes had trouble putting his pitches where he wanted in the fourth. He surrendered four straight singles to the AFL's highest-scoring club before inducing a forceout, then he left after issuing his third walk of the day. All five runners would score, swelling his ERA from 0.77 to 3.60.

Reyes acknowledges which aspect of his game requires the most improvement.

"I want to work on fastball command and being able to throw it in all counts and keep it down in the zone," he said. "That's one of the things that you see in the big leagues, that guys are just very consistent with their command. I feel like that's the next step for me to become a complete pitcher."

Time is on Reyes' side. He had a spectacular regular season, reaching Double-A while recording a 2.49 ERA, 151 strikeouts and a .197 opponent average in 101 1/3 innings. Minor shoulder fatigue sidelined him for a month at midseason and knocked him out of the All-Star Futures Game, though he was fine afterward.

It's hard to believe that just four years ago, Reyes was a lightly regarded prospect at Elizabeth (N.J.) High, as much an infielder as a pitcher. While he was born and raised in New Jersey, his parents are from the Dominican Republic, and the family decided he should move there to live with his grandmother and concentrate on baseball.

The unusual move paid off, as Reyes' arm strength skyrocketed and he signed with St. Louis for $950,000 in December 2012. He has advanced rapidly in the Minors and could surface at Busch Stadium in 2016 -- provided he improves his ability to locate his pitches.

Cardinals hitters in the Fall League

Aledmys Diaz, SS -- Shoulder problems limited him to 47 games in his 2014 U.S. debut, but the Cuban bounced back to hit .278/.339/.445 with 13 homers in 116 games this year between Double-A and Triple-A. Signed to a four-year, $8 million deal, he profiles as an offensive-minded utility man and has looked better defensively in his second season as a pro.

Mike Ohlman, C -- He signed with the Orioles for $995,000 as an 11th-round pick from a Florida high school in 2009 and won the high Class A Carolina League batting title in 2013, but inconsistent production led Baltimore to sell him to St. Louis this February. His arm strength may be his lone average tool, but his fringy bat, power and defense may be enough to earn him a role as a big league backup. Ohlman batted .273/.356/.418 with 12 homers in 103 Double-A games in 2015.

Charlie Tilson, OF -- A 2011 second-round pick from an Illinois high school and recipient of a $1,275,000 bonus, he's a true center fielder with well above-average speed. He hit .295/.351/.388 in 134 games and led the Double-A Texas League with 159 hits, nine triples and 46 steals this year.

Patrick Wisdom, 3B -- Though he offers quality defense at the hot corner, he hasn't produced consistently at the plate since the Cardinals made him a second-rounder in 2012 out of St. Mary's. He batted .237/.294/.406 with 14 homers and 11 steals in 114 games in 2015, his second straight year in Double-A.

Cardinals pitchers in the Fall League

Dean Kiekhefer, LHP -- He has had to overcome a lot of doubts as a former 36th-round pick (2010 out of Louisville) and as a sidewinder with a mid-80s fastball. But he's death on lefties and is coming off a strong season in Triple-A, where he had a 2.41 ERA and a 37/7 K/BB ratio in 59 2/3 innings.

Robby Rowland, RHP -- The son of former big league catcher Rich Rowland, he was a Diamondbacks third-rounder as a California high schooler in 2010 and since has bounced to the Pirates and Cardinals. Flashing a plus fastball and otherwise featuring fringy stuff, he recorded a 3.36 ERA and a 56/13 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings between three levels in 2015 (mostly in low Class A).

Luke Weaver, RHP -- Signed for $1,843,300 as the 27th overall choice in the 2014 Draft, he shook off a lackluster pro debut and diminished arm strength this spring to post a 1.62 ERA and 88/19 K/BB ratio in 105 1/3 high Class A innings. The Florida State product's best pitch is his changeup and he can reach the mid-90s with his fastball.

Jim Callis is a reporter for Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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