Baseball fans tend to forget just how hard this game is at the highest level. We expect prospects that succeed in the minors to transition to the Major Leagues seamlessly. That doesn’t happen often.
A pitcher’s development is rarely linear. He may have several peaks and valleys in a short period of time or struggle for extended periods before putting it together. We saw it with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey who both struggled for a few years until they became good MLB pitchers.
It seems like a faint memory that Cody Reed was the king of the Reds minor league system just two years ago. Before the 2016 season began, Baseball America ranked Reed as the 34th best prospect in the entire game. In a Redleg Nation podcast, our own Jason Linden said that Reed had “an opportunity to be a Johnny Cueto-type pitcher” and that once he was called up, Reed would not go back to the minor leagues.
Well, Reed did get called up to start on June 18, 2016 and while that particular appearance went well enough, the rest of the season was a nightmare. The 2017 season wasn’t much better. Last September, I detailed Reed’s rise and fall, culminating in a rock bottom start against the Cubs in April 2017 start.
Reed admitted being bitter in 2017, believing he should have received more MLB starts as opposed to the abundance of chances given to players with no future in the organization. He spent most of the season in AAA as his peers, namely Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, and Robert Stephenson, pitched well enough to push Reed far down the depth chart.
Reed came into Spring Training so far below the competition that he was strictly relegated to competing for a bullpen spot. In spite of Bryan Price’s assurances that the Reds saw Reed as a starter long term, his exclusion from the rotation race seemed like the nail in the coffin of his starting pitching career.
Reed began the hard process of rebuilding his credibility in an organization full of young, talented pitchers. In spite of some rough appearances early on, Reed impressed the Reds with an improved attitude and better command. And in his one Spring start, Reed showed flashes of his minor league brilliance, proving that he still possesses the stuff that made him a top 35 prospect.
But opportunities for redemption are often created by the failure of others. Stephenson struggled so badly in Spring that he went from front runner to back of the pack. Michael Lorenzen played Jekyl and Hyde, impressing at times, looking lost others, and then getting hurt. Anthony Desclafani and Brandon joined Lorenzen on the injury list.
Still, Amir Garrett mostly dominated in Arizona and added 3-4 MPH to his fastball. He seemed like the obvious choice should the Reds need a fifth starter before Finnegan was ready. But when Opening Day was postponed by a day, the Reds announced that Reed would be the fifth starter on Tuesday against the Cubs instead of Garrett.
The Reds clearly have some confidence in Reed that many fans do not. Nevertheless, his time to climb back up the Reds depth chart has come. Will he succeed? There are both positive and negative signs.
We have reason to believe that Reed can still become a MLB starting pitcher. While he feels like old news, Reed still hasn’t turned 25, and in terms of professional innings pitched, he remains a neophyte as seen in the following table.
|Player (age)||Minor league innings||Major League Innings||Total Innings|
|Sal Romano (24)||665.2||87||752.2|
|Robert Stephenson (25)||627||121.2||748.2|
|Amir Garrett (25) *||563.2||70.2||634.1|
|Tyler Mahle (23)||558||20||578|
|Luis Castillo (25)||460.1||89.1||549.1|
|Cody Reed (24) *||438.2||65.1||504|
|Michael Lorenzen (26)||188.2||246.1||452.1|
|Brandon Finnegan (24) *||240||96.1||336.1|
* Has a birthday in the next four weeks.
Only Lorenzen and Finnegan, two pitchers who spent time in the bullpen and injured list, have pitched fewer innings than Reed. He moved quickly through the minors, with his first full professional season coming in 2014, and his MLB debut in June of 2016. He’s still learning to pitch.
His mid 90s fastball and wipeout slider remain intact; Reed has the same Major League arm that gave us hope two years ago.
However, Reed struggled mightily with mechanics last season, walking almost 13% of his batters at AAA and a horrendous 24.1% in the Majors. The walks were a big departure from previous seasons when he displayed strong command.
I’ve always wondered whether Reed changed his mechanics between 2016 and 2017 because of a flaw that scouts have noted previously: Reed’s arm slot gives right handers a nice, long look at the ball as he releases it. That’s likely why opposing batters have slugged .774 against his fastball in his short MLB career.
Sometimes, players can adjust in meaningful ways that mitigate their shortcomings. Changing an arm slot and still commanding pitches seems like an awfully difficult thing to do. Whatever Reed did in the offseason, it seemed to help his command. During his 12.1 IP in Arizona, he walked only two batters while striking out ten.
But again, good and bad signs. Reed gave up 20 hits in Spring Training, consistent with the pummeling he has taken in the Major Leagues to this point.
And there are questions about Reed’s mental makeup. I’ve tried not to put too much stock into that, but it’s hard to ignore just how hard he appears to take failure. Maybe he’s just a young pitcher going through growing pains in a public way. Or maybe he struggles mentally in a way that does affect his performance. I have no idea, and no one should draw any conclusions about Reed on this point. If and when he begins to dominate on the big league level, we won’t hear anything more about “mental makeup.”
Despite these concerns, it’s telling that Bryan Price had so many nice things to say about Reed this spring. Price sees something different, giving me hope that Reed can claw his way back into the starting pitching debate. If not, I see a useful two pitch reliever that can go multiple innings if need be.
Bryan Price and Dick Williams believe in Reed enough to give him another chance as a MLB starter. Because the Reds have lots of other options, he needs to take advantage. Here’s hoping the kid puts it together. There’s reason to think he can.