It was about this time last February that Alex Reyes threw an offspeed pitch and cringed. The sensation he felt throughout his elbow was, as he later described it, "a pain that I hadn't felt before." That symptom led to a diagnosis, which left Reyes watching from the sidelines last season while he worked through his recovery from Tommy John surgery. It's a process that, now, is nearly complete. Though the Cardinals won't hold their first Spring Training workout for another two weeks, Reyes is among those who have already relocated to Jupiter, Fla., where he is throwing off the mound and getting an early test against hitters in live batting-practice sessions. Wanting to protect their top prospect as much as possible, the Cardinals have set a soft target of May 1 as a likely return date for Reyes. What hasn't been so explicitly defined, though, is what role he'll fill upon that return. Long term, the Cardinals have every intention of using Reyes to anchor their rotation. MLB Pipeline recently ranked Reyes as the seventh-best right-handed pitching prospect, and he likely would have been higher on that list had he not just missed a full season. But given the recovery process Reyes has undergone over these last 12 months, the Cardinals intend to be cautious in 2018. Their preference, as stated multiple times this offseason by president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, would be to have Reyes first come out of the bullpen.