Meet Denyi Reyes, the Red Sox pitching prospect you’ve never heard of

Vincent Gallo
July 20, 2018 - 12:12 pm
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Denyi Reyes will always remember the time spent, year after year after year, at the ballparks during the Dominican Republic’s sweltering summers. He’d watch the aces of San Cristobal carve out their path to the major leagues: Francisco Liriano, Santiago Casilla, Pedro Strop, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda. A young Reyes never had any doubt in his mind that he would someday share the same destiny.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I watched players like Vlad Guerrero, [and] I’ve watched other baseball players come up through my hometown,” Reyes said. “A number of pitchers [from San Cristobal] have passed through the major leagues. It’s always been a dream: to watch them play and to watch them grow up, I want to follow their footsteps and keep bringing the pride to my hometown and to my family.”

Reyes has not tasted big league success yet. After all, he’s still only 21 years old, having signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent at the age of 17.

Reyes never forgets the date. July 2, 2014.

But compared to the team’s past signings of international prospects, like the transactions of Yoan Moncada and Rusney Castillo, there was barely a whisper of the Red Sox contract agreement with Reyes. There can be no official press release found easily with a Google search, and he is yet to crack the top 30 Red Sox prospects on MLB.com.

Reyes is determined to prove to the Red Sox they made no mistake in acquiring him. So far, in his fourth season as a member of the organization, he is still emphatically pushing for more recognition. He hasn’t had an ERA above three since being signed. After achieving a 1.45 ERA and a 9-0 record in 15 games (62 innings) with Single-A Lowell last year, Reyes has turned in a 9-3 record and 1.79 ERA through 16 starts (110 2/3 innings) in 2018 with Single-A Greenville.

Greenville pitching coach Bob Kipper saw Reyes throw twice during Spring Training, and initially saw a righty who could give the Drive inning insurance out of the bullpen. But Reyes showed so much promise that the team’s coaching staff decided to give him the home opening start. After throwing five shutout innings of relief on opening day, he notched the win in the home opener as a starter, with a two-run, six-hit performance through 5 2/3 innings while striking out four.

“He’s a big kid in the sense that he’s about a 6-foot-5/6-foot-6 and has a very athletic body for his frame,” Kipper said. “[He has] a real clean delivery. He’s not going to wow anybody with stuff he’s not going to light up a radar gun, but it was very clear to me that his fastball had deception … He doesn’t expose the baseball until late in his delivery so the fastball jumps on you a little quicker than the radar gun.”

A deceptive four-seam fastball has led Reyes to a 111-13 strikeout-to-walks ratio, a 0.88 WHIP and a .205 opponent batting average. When first signed, scouts weren’t sold on his off-speed pitches. His changeup was believed to have needed “separation from his fastball.” At the same time, Reyes was developing a slider to complement an average 90-92 mph fastball. Then there was his 69-72 mph curveball, seen to have “below-average potential.” Kipper on the other hand, explained that Reyes can use it as a strike-stealing pitch if hid within his arsenal well. The pitching coach believes the righty has had a good feel for his changeup this year, and that a diverse secondary mix has helped separate Reyes from the league’s other top pitchers.

“His excess starts with his ability to command the fastball [has been the key] … it starts with the fastball command and then he has the secondary mix. What separates Denyi is that he doesn’t allow you to get comfortable to an area of the strike zone. He pitches inside very, very well so he won’t allow the hitter to get comfortable [on the outside part of the zone]. What he also does really well is changing speeds … You really can’t eliminate a pitch with Denyi Reyes at any count, because he has the ability, confidence and awareness to do different things in different counts. Hitters don’t have a comfortable at-bat.”

To date, Reyes is third in the South Atlantic League in ERA, first in total strikeouts, first in WHIP, and first in innings pitched.

“He manages himself on the mound very well … in all game situations,” Kipper explained. “The pace of the game remains in his control no matter what. Intangibles like poise and composure are things that are represented in Denyi Reyes. Some young professional players don’t know how to compete – they want to compete but they’re not sure how to, but he knows how to compete.”

Kipper is sure to bring up something encouraging when talking about Reyes. It’s not a mere reference to his recent start against Rome where he retired 10 batters by way of the strikeout through six shutout innings. It’s not about when he threw a complete game, and shut down Columbia so quickly that the post-game fireworks were delayed for almost 30 minutes. It’s the overall progress made, and the thought of Reyes getting stronger with age leading to a possible jump in speed of his fastball of 90-92 mph.

“When you look at [calling up] any player, you look to see if that player is beating the league. Denyi Reyes is beating this league. Do I think he’s ready for the next level? Certainly,” said Kipper. “He’s only 21 years old. It’s hard for me to think this is as good as he’ll ever be at 21, that he’s not going to get any stronger … I’m not sold that he’s not going to get stronger and maybe add velocity to his fastball.”

Reyes understands what lies ahead. He still needs to be promoted quite a few more times to achieve his big league dream. If he does one day reach the majors, he will take into account the thousands of Red Sox fans expecting him to duplicate his current success on baseball’s biggest stage. But Reyes will also pitch for the young kids in the Dominican, who not too long ago, had watched him as an up-and-coming San Cristobal talent, from the same stands and sidelines he once spectated from.

“I know that I’m not only playing for the Red Sox or for my career,” Reyes said. “Every time I go out to pitch I keep in mind and have the awareness that there will always be a fan watching. I want them to enjoy watching me pitch.”

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