A Major League mound can be a place of solace for a pitcher; a safe haven where everything makes sense regardless of the chaos off it. And yet, even with thousands of people intently watching your every move, that same mound can be a place of extreme loneliness and confusion. Sometimes, it’s easy to see which one a pitcher is currently experiencing.
Cody Reed looked like a changed man. After struggling so mightily in his 2016 audition, he had dominated in seven bullpen innings in early 2017, looking much like the pitcher who had become a top 35 prospect just a year earlier. The Reds felt the good vibes and gave him a start against the Chicago Cubs on April 22. It was Reed’s time to show how far he had come since getting obliterated in ten starts the year before.
The feeling must have been somewhat familiar. Ball after ball to led to two walks to lead off the game. Then, CRACK. Anthony Rizzo mighty bat met Reed’s pitch with unforgiving force, putting the ball into the stands and deflating a hopeful crowd at Great American Ball Park.
Reed lasted two innings. I vividly remember the look on his face as he exited the field, the last one of his teammates to reach the dugout. So lost. So alone. It was as if he’d overcome a mountain of insecurity and doubt only to be kick off of the cliff to the very bottom. How did we get here?
It was just two short years ago that the Kansas City Royals traded Reed, along with Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb, to the Reds for Johnny Cueto. At that time, Reed had already begun his ascension as a prospect, dominating high A ball and pitching roughly 30 solid innings in AA.
After the trade, Reed overwhelmed AA hitters for 50 more innings, posting a 29.9% strikeout percentage. Baseball America rated him as the 34th best prospect in all of baseball heading into 2016.
At that time, the mound must have been a place where everything made sense for Reed, like a second home. That tranquility persisted early in the 2016 season as he performed well in AAA, especially the first four or five outings.
While he had some relative struggles for a few starts, his overall body of work was impressive enough for a Redleg Nation writer to prognosticate that Reed might be the Reds best starter immediately upon his arrival in the big leagues. That seems crazy, unless you remember who was in the rotation last summer. A pretty low bar to jump.
And the promotion came.
“It just never gets any better for Cody Reed,” Marty Brennaman growled over the radio. “At what point do they decide not to send him back out there.”
The beating was severe. Relentless. Unforgiving. Opposing batters had a .324 average against Reed in his ten starts and belted twelve homeruns. He posted an unsightly 7.36 ERA. Looking bewildered, Reed found himself back in AAA trying to figure out what had just happened. An injury cut the rest of his season short.
By the time Reed was optioned back to AAA in 2017, he was questioning whether he belonged on a big league mound at all (great reporting by Zack Buchanan). He has spent the last four months in AAA trying to regain the magic, both physically and mentally, that made him the darling of the Reds system a year and a half ago.
That’s where he’s been, but as Reed rejoins the Reds pitching staff, it’s important to ask where he might be going.
When Reed was promoted, Bryan Price stated that Reed would pitch mostly, if not exclusively, out of the bullpen while Amir Garrett and Rookie Davis would likely get starts down the stretch. That’s extremely telling, especially because Davis isn’t considered much of a starting pitching prospect.
Is Reed’s future in the bullpen then? It appears more and more likely.
Reed now faces the problem of opportunity. He went from darling of the young pitchers to the back of the line, meaning he needs help to get another rotation chance. The pitching staff could again suffer the cruel fate of multiple injuries, or the Reds could make a trade that opens up the starting competition more. Maybe a couple young guys start struggling again. One thing is certain: Reed no longer controls his own fate as a starter.
The Reds may also want another lefty in the bullpen. With the Cingrani trade, only Wandy Peralta looks like a lock as a lefthander. Unless they acquire someone else in the offseason, the Reds will likely look within for another lefty. All of the Reds best relief prospects are right-handers, meaning Reed, Garrett, or Brandon Finnegan likely fill that role. Finnegan’s shoulder issues could relegate him to the pen, but if not, Reed appears the most likely option.
Besides opportunity and team needs, we have to question whether Reed should be a starter. While most writers and fans have focused on his mental state during his struggles, he has some serious mechanical issues to work through.
In AAA, Reed was working on smoothing out and repeating his delivery. Many young pitchers struggle with those issues. However, Reed’s biggest problem may be his three quarter arm slot, which gives right-handed hitters a really good look at his pitches. We would expect some serious platoon splits because of it.
Sure enough, in Reed’s young career, lefties have an OPS of .760 while righties have torched him for a .998 OPS. Without pinpoint command, he will continue to struggle with his fastball against right-handers, and he has failed to consistently control his pitches since making mechanical changes.
With the other factors, Reed’s best path forward might be shorter stints where he can rely on his slider more, and hitters only see him once. Even if that solution doesn’t have the biggest potential payoff, it’s the quickest one available to the Reds.
And of course, the Reds must consider the damage already inflicted on Reed’s psyche. He’s only 24 years old but seems to carry of the weight of his early failures like the regrets of an old, broken man. Maybe that’s perception more than reality. I hope so.
Reed’s pure stuff is elite level: he can throw 97 and has an excellent slider and useful changeup. With proper nurturing and good fortune, he could still turn into an impressive starter. Unfortunately for him, he has many obstacles to face and little time to overcome them. Cody Reed is a starter in most organizations, but with the depth the Reds feel they have now, he may not be a starter in this one.