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.

12 Responses

  1. citizen54

    Hopefully, the Reds will give Reed more than one shot this year. No sure who’s decision it was but giving starts to people like Arroyo and Bonilla when you have young pitchers you need to evaluate was definitely head scratching. I actually like what the Reds have done so far this year by not having Reed and Stephenson rotting in the pen.

  2. Sliotar

    “We have reason to believe that Reed can still become a MLB starting pitcher. ”

    Who are “we”? I have not seen anything yet at the MLB regular-season level to suggest Reed is going to stick, let alone be above average, in a starter or reliever role.

    “The Reds clearly have some confidence in Reed that many fans do not.”

    The Reds are in a re-building year, with the crux of becoming a contender hinging on a young, controllable SP staff coming together, because the team won’t open its checkbook.

    Reed, Bob Steve, Garrett, everyone should get an extended look, even if causes the team to lose 100 games in 2018. The team has too much surplus in unproven SP. Figure out who can make it, try and trade most of the rest before overexposure to fill a hole or two.

    None of these guys, except for Castillo, deserves the benefit of the doubt with the fan base. They have done nothing yet to deserve that.

    I am a fan of any in a Reds uniform that can pitch well vs. the Nationals, Cubs, etc. If Gapper the Mascot could do it, Gapper would be my favorite Reds SP.

    • Ghettotrout1

      I concur with these statements.

    • big5ed

      You could have said the same thing about Corey Kluber and Jake Arrieta, going into their age 25 seasons. Kluber in even his age 25 season threw 4.1 innings, giving up 6 hits and 3 walks. Arrieta got 18 starts at Baltimore at age 24, and had a 4.76 FIP that year, with a K/9 of a very poor 4.7; his FIP at age 27 was 4.84.

      Randy Johnson had thrown only 26 MLB innings through age 24, and averaged over 6 BB/9 in his age 27 and 28 seasons.

      Tall lefties like Reed ought to be expected to be slow in developing. I didn’t know just how few innings that Reed had pitched until I saw this article. He has way too good of an arm to get impatient with.

    • Chad Dotson

      If you only judged Greg Maddux by what he did in the beginning “at the MLB regular-season level” you would have given up on him very quickly.

      Reed isn’t going to be Maddux, obviously, but he DOES have a track record. Minor league performance counts too. And there are definitely reasons to believe that he can be a good big league pitcher. Whether he will remains to be seen.

  3. da bear

    Just as with Cingrani, Reed needs some Dodger analytical help, some actual coaching, to maximize his effectiveness.

    Unlike Homer, Cueto showed straight line improvement from his rookie year. By Johnny’s 4th year his ERA was sub 3 where it stayed in the NL for 6 straight years (there was the AL hiccup where he wasn’t on the same page with Salvador Perez….but ultimately Cueto got them to the World Series and hammered the Mets with a two hitter and the first complete game by an AL pitcher since Jack Morris twenty plus years prior).

  4. james garrett

    This team is king of the knee jerk reaction.They are clueless to what it takes to develop major league pitching.They must have forgot or chose to ignore the struggles young guys have at the start of their careers.ALL have ups and downs but the Reds can’t deal with the downs on select group of starters.Reed and Bob last year and now Garrett this year.Its almost like we have too many guys.In 2106 Disco and Finny got 30+ starts and it was mentioned how Cueto and Homer struggled.Its really simple pick your 5 guys and let them start,pick 5 guys to start at Louisville and if their are any left over start them at AA.Let them tell you after 15 to 20 starts if they can or can’t in Cincy and move on.That’s not many to go on and I would prefer 25 or more but it is what it is for now.Stop this nonsense of they are a starter no they are a reliever until they get a legitimate chance to prove they aren’t a starter.I would be a head case too if I was Reed and Bob and now Garrett.

  5. Chad Dotson

    Hope so. Mahle goes after hitters and gets them out. He throws strikes. Both are concepts that could help young Mister Reed.

  6. tomn

    Reeds got a live arm. I’ve been a fan as he worked thru the minors. I just hope he can give a strong 5 innings tomorrow with minimal walks. Hoping he can match Mahle at this point is too much. Mahle is just more advanced. But I hope he’s able to pound the strike zone, minimize walks and keep the Reds in the game.

    That would be a good start to the season for him.

    He’s got a ways to go, in my books but he’s got time. He himself needs to realize that and not be impatient.

  7. nicolecushing

    As always, I wish any Reds pitcher well.

    But I have a suspicion he’s gonna get shellacked.

  8. Gonzo Reds

    Double bonus… Reed didn’t get lit up and we get our first series win of the year… thanks Mother Nature!