Colby Rasmus, Meet Anthony Reyes

Colby Rasmus and Tony LaRussa have had a somewhat public disagreement over the last 1-2 weeks. At the center of the disagreement (although clubhouse dynamics in the treatment of younger players has surfaced too) seems to be LaRussa’s expectations vs Rasmus’ performance. As a result of this spat, some interesting discussions have appeared on the internet, including whether or not Rasmus will be a Cardinal long-term.

As all this unfolded, one name kept popping up in my head: Anthony Reyes, the former World Series hero shipped to Cleveland at the 2008 trade deadline. There are common themes behind what is happening to Rasmus and what happened to Reyes, specifically the difficulty with management, and influences outside the ballclub.

Difficulty with Management

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa

Anthony Reyes was taken in the 15th round of the 2003 draft, and Rasmus was the Cardinals’ #1 pick in 2005, but beyond that their development paths are similar. Both were eventually ranked as top prospects in the Cardinal system – Reyes as the top pitching prospect in 2005, and Rasmus as the top overall prospect in 2007 and 2008. Rasmus has had more success early in his career than Reyes ever did, but both struggled as their careers started. Rasmus posted an OPS+ of 88 in his rookie season. Rasmus has been one of the best center fielders in the majors this season, but still suffers from defensive lapses and over-agressiveness at the plate. Reyes entered Spring Training 2006 as the odds-on favorite to win the #5 starting position, but found himself in the minors when the season started, being recalled only after Mark Mulder hurt his shoulder. Reyes was OK in his first professional season, then had that fantastic start in Game 1 of the 2006 World Series, which seemed to assure him a spot in the rotation for 2007. When Spring Training 2007 started, that was no longer the case. Reyes began the 2007 season in the rotation, but went 0-8 in his first 10 starts, hampered both either by high pitch counts, one ‘melt-down’ inning a game, or no run support (19 runs scored by the Cardinals in his first 10 starts).

Adding stress to their performances was discord in the clubhouse. Reyes’ disputes with management played out publicly almost immediately, starting in early 2006 and continuing right up until he was traded. Rasmus’ difficulty had been kept internal to the clubhouse until last week, but it apparently began early in his career as well. Whether it has been their work ethic, or if they are strong personalities who think they know the right way based on the previous guidance they’ve gotten (more on that below), I cannot say, yet the friction is real. LaRussa and Duncan are both old-school guys who do not put up with much. Talented people in pursuit of a common goal eventually have to learn to work together, but in Reyes’ case it never got to that point. If Rasmus has a similar outlook on his baseball talent and career (and we already know he believes himself to be a middle-of-the-order guy as opposed to a #2 or #7 hitter), he can end up on the same path as Reyes – in the doghouse, and then in another organization.

Strong Fatherly Guidance

Colby Rasmus

Both players benefited from strong mentoring while children and young athletes. Anthony Reyes is very close to his father. Reyes’ relationship extended beyond just the normal familial bond; his father was also his pitching coach, advising him on not only his mechanics but how to best use his stuff. Not surprisingly Mr. Reyes’ theories of pitching did not always agree with Dave Duncan’s theories. Dave Duncan gets paid to train his pitching staff, and he coaches his charges to best fit Tony LaRussa’s philosophy on how to defend and how to get people out. After his disastrous 2007 campaign Reyes regrouped with his father and announced he had ‘fixed a flaw’ in his mechanics during the off-season. He pitched much better during Spring Training 2008 than he had the previous two years, but started the season in the bullpen vice in the rotation. He stayed there a month and was sent to Memphis.

Politically, saying his father had fixed a flaw Dave Duncan had not been able to resolve almost certainly exacerbated an already tense situation. Reyes was a head strong guy Duncan and LaRussa were having trouble convincing to do thing their way. Given the difficulty he had with management since 2006,this sequence probably hastened his exit. He did not pitch well in 2008 once the season started

Colby Rasmus is also close to his father. His father has advised him on his game throughout his life, especially his hitting, and continues to do so – most recently in July. Mr. Rasmus has shown more tact with LaRussa than Mr. Reyes did. He went to LaRussa during this past off-season to tell Tony what he wanted to work on with Colby and if that plan was OK. LaRussa said he had no problem with that, and I believe him. Many players seek outside the organization help in the off-season. The fact it has continued into the regular season, however, makes me think it grates on the manager, and adds to the rift between the two.

So we have two players, highly touted as prospects, with strong father figures in their lives, having trouble with LaRussa and Duncan.


Anthony Reyes eventually played his way out of St Louis. He never realized the potential the organization saw in him as a minor leaguer, and they traded him away for essentially nothing (Luis Perdomo and cash; Perdomo was later lost to the San Francisco Giants in the Rule V draft). His difficulties with the manager and pitching coach most likely stunted his development and hastened his exit. Reyes is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Colby Rasmus? The same signs we got from the Cardinals with Reyes are present. Although Ramsus has not spent lots of time on the Memphis/St Louis shuttle like Reyes did in 2007 and 2008, he has endured an extended time out of the lineup recently – ostensibly to allow a troublesome calf to heal. That’s a warning sign. If LaRussa was reluctant to play Rasmus when the team really needed his bat (and I grant you he was actually injured; my point is he could have returned to the lineup sooner than he did) there’s something wrong. The fact LaRussa made a half-hearted effort to defend Rasmus when the trade request reports came out is also a warning sign as well. It seems pretty clear LaRussa’s confidence in Colby Rasmus has been shaken.

There has been a lot of talk about who will be in St Louis next year – LaRussa or Rasmus. I hope it’s both men; but if the club has to make a choice, I expect the one they make will be based on what is best for the long term health of the club.

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