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Underdog battles injury, becomes 21st-round pick

Righty Reyes trained himself at former high school for 5 years
MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- Cristian Reyes would cry himself to sleep, wondering if it was the end of his baseball career.

After a labrum tear in his right arm nearly derailed his career, necessitating a nearly five-year recovery process, Reyes, 23, was drafted by the Angels on June 6 with their 21st-round selection. His Draft card read "No School." Reyes had not played a collegiate baseball game since 2016, when he pitched just 5 1/3 innings. Overall, he pitched just 6 1/3 innings over three seasons of collegiate ball.

ANAHEIM -- Cristian Reyes would cry himself to sleep, wondering if it was the end of his baseball career.

After a labrum tear in his right arm nearly derailed his career, necessitating a nearly five-year recovery process, Reyes, 23, was drafted by the Angels on June 6 with their 21st-round selection. His Draft card read "No School." Reyes had not played a collegiate baseball game since 2016, when he pitched just 5 1/3 innings. Overall, he pitched just 6 1/3 innings over three seasons of collegiate ball.

Reyes' journey started in 2013, at Broward Community College, after a four-year stint at Hialeah Gardens (Fla.) High School, where he was a No. 3 starter for a district-winning team. At the time, his fastball topped out at 84 mph on his best day. Just one inning into his freshman season at Broward, Reyes tore his right labrum, starting a laborious and all-encompassing rehabilitation process. A few months into his rehab, he turned 19, and his insurance expired, forcing him to end formal professionally-aided therapy.

Without the proper regimen, Reyes' right shoulder never quite returned to its natural range of motion. He tried his own methods over the course of the next two years, returning to his high school stomping grounds to train using regimens he learned via YouTube. For two and a half years, Reyes would go to Hialeah Gardens every other day and work, mostly by himself, occasionally with his older brother, bringing a bucket of balls to throw against a net, doing long-toss, doing stretches and lunges hours before the high school team would take the field for practice.

There were plenty of days when Reyes' right arm wouldn't feel adequate -- when he would have to stop after just a few throws, when he felt like quitting and abandoning baseball. Those were the days he would cry himself to sleep -- the days where he'd be running the track, crying every step of the way.

"I'd cry, I'd be in tears at times on the track, running, saying, 'I don't know what's happening. I don't know what's wrong with me.'" Reyes said. "I would cry myself to sleep at times. I felt like, 'That's it, I'm done.' It was multiple times I felt like quitting like that. But the next day, I would be like, 'No, I can't.'

"I just loved the game so much that I needed to try it again. I always told myself that if I wanted to leave this game, I wanted someone to tell me I'm not good enough. I didn't want to leave the game because of injuries."

So Reyes continued, and in 2016, three years after his labrum tear, he took the mound at Kishwaukee College in Illinois, another junior college that rolled the dice on him, despite the fact that he was was still throwing just 84 mph. He threw 5 1/3 innings that season, with pain still permeating his right arm. Reyes' strength and range of motion were not even close to 100 percent, three years after his initial injury.

Reyes continued to do his throwing and stretching regimen four times a week at Hialeah Gardens after the 2016 season concluded. He joined a Sunday league, the Federal League out of Fort Lauderdale, where he played up until the 2018 Draft. For the '17 season, Reyes was due to play at ASA College in Miami, but he was out of eligibility because, technically, he played two years at his first community college, and he thought that Broward had given him a medical redshirt for what should have been his sophomore year, which would have enabled him to play at ASA during the spring of '17. Broward did not do so.

"I felt cheated because I thought the team would have done it automatically," Reyes said.

So Reyes went back to the drawing boards once again, bureaucracy rearing its ugly head, preventing him a much-needed chance to rehab and showcase his abilities. Another year of self-training it was. At that point, his right arm had begun to feel better -- he was throwing around 91 mph. A few months after he was declared ineligible to play at ASA, in the fall of '17, his former high school coach Tino Burgos reached out, saying that he had a spot available at Florida Memorial University, where Burgos now coached. Reyes transferred in, ready to start playing again in the spring of '18, but again, there was another academic-related snafu -- he didn't have enough credits from community college to be eligible. He fell just a few short of the 48 needed to suit up.

Back to Hialeah he went, sprints, then lunges all over again. Reyes continued playing with the Federal League, with no feasible end in sight. But at that point, he felt hungrier than he ever had. His velocity was steadily increasing, now up to 96 mph -- touching 98 at times.

"I guess my arm got used to all the work after all those years of stretches and throwing," Reyes said. "My arm just started getting super loose out of nowhere."

His representative, Christian Perez, a former high school teammate, reached out to a scout with the White Sox, convincing him to observe a bullpen session. The scout was blown away by Reyes' velocity. Perez then contacted scouts from the Angels and Marlins, who were equally wowed.

Scouts then showed up to the Federal League in droves, ready to see if an obscure Sunday leaguer who had pitched less than a game's worth of competitive baseball in the past five seasons actually had what it takes to get drafted into the Major Leagues.

Evidently, this Sunday leaguer did.

"I think there's a lot of excitement," Angels scouting director Matt Swanson said. "It's a very old-school way of scouting a player [when] there's so much information these days."

Reyes was drafted with the 631st overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. Had you told that fact to his coaches from high school after Reyes' labrum tear in 2013, as he was coming in every other day, struggling to merely throw the ball, they wouldn't have believed you.

"No way," said Carlos Garcia, then-assistant coach, now head coach, for Hialeah Gardens High School. "I get goosebumps just thinking about it right now. It just shows my young guys now that anything is possible, as long as you put your mind and your hard work to wanting to get it done."

If you had told Reyes, he'd express the same disbelief.

After all of that, Reyes had to have been excited to get drafted by a Major League team, right? Not really. Just 30 minutes after he was selected in the 21st round, there he was, on the track of Hialeah Gardens High School, getting in his throws, just like he had since '13.

"I was like, 'What the hell, he just got drafted,'" Garcia said. "Me, Carlos Garcia, I would have been celebrating. He's like, 'Nah, coach.' Instead of partying or celebrating, he came to his alma mater to throw, run and continue to do what he's been doing to get to this point right now."

"I'll be happy when I get to the big leagues," Reyes said. "At any moment, in this game, you could get released. I still have to be focused. My main goal is not to be drafted; my main goal is to make it to a Major League team, make it in the big leagues. The day that I'm in Angel Stadium, on the hill, pitching, with my jersey on, is when I'll be excited."

Avery Yang is a reporter for MLB.com based in Anaheim.

Los Angeles Angels