Late last July, Cody Reed was in the midst of enjoying a casual Italian dinner at Olive Garden in Springfield, Missouri. Reed’s mother, his friend from his junior college days, and his then-girlfriend had trekked five hours from the Memphis area to see Reed, a left-handed starter for the Northwest Arkansas Nationals, the Double-A team in the Kansas City Royals system, pitch against the Springfield Cardinals.
During the meal, Reed’s cell phone rang, with an unfamiliar number appearing on the screen. In a matter of seconds, Reed was informed that he was now a member of the Cincinnati Reds, as he had been included in the outgoing package (along with current Reds starters Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb) Cincinnati had received from the Royals in exchange for Johnny Cueto.
“I think my first word,” Reed recalls, “was, What?!”
When Cody Reed graduated from Horn Lake High School in Horn Lake, Mississippi, he was the same height (6’5) as he is now—but he only weighed 165 pounds. And since the rest of his body could not keep up with his growth hormones, Reed’s fastball typically topped out at 84 mph.
“I was a bean pole out there,” Reed says. “I didn’t have any strength coming behind the ball when I was throwing.”
In his words, Reed began throwing 88 to 92 mph “out of nowhere” near the end of his high school baseball days. Ole Miss wanted Reed to walk on after his velocity suddenly jumped, but Reed honored his commitment to Northwest Mississippi Community College, a junior college 27 miles south of Horn Lake in Senatobia, Mississippi.
Reed thrived in his two seasons there, finishing as the program’s all-time leader in innings pitched (137.2), shutouts (five), strikeouts (161), and wins (16). Following his two-year stint at Northwest, Reed earned a scholarship offer to pitch for Ole Miss. (Reed had two seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining.) But Kansas City selected Reed with the 46th overall pick in the 2013 draft. Reed chose the Royals over the Rebels.
Less than two weeks after he was drafted, Reed was receiving his first taste of pro ball, pitching for the rookie-level Idaho Falls Chukars. Reed struggled, allowing 20 earned runs and 23 walks in 29.2 innings. Back home for the offseason, Reed settled for the status quo in his training sessions.
“I didn’t take my offseason very serious,” Reed says. “When I got to spring training, it showed.”
Reed suffered a minor forearm injury in spring training, and then failed to break camp with the rest of the team. After two weeks, Reed was sent to pitch for the Single-A Lexington Legends. In his first start, Reed managed to record only one out, yielding six runs (five earned), five hits, and two walks.
“My confidence was down [after that outing]—You can’t even get three outs in your first start?!” Reed says. “I had a couple of good starts [that season], but for the most part, it wasn’t pretty at all.”
In 84 innings at Lexington, Reed posted a 5.46 ERA. His strikeout rate sunk, and he averaged nearly four walks per nine innings pitched.
Reed’s professional career was threatening to spiral out of control. So, he rededicated himself to his craft after the 2014 season, sticking to his workout schedule, as well as upping his training regimen and eating properly.
That course correction transformed Reed from wayward prospect into a near-ready major league arm that could anchor the Reds’ rotation for years to come.
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This past offseason, Reed repeated his program from the previous winter with one exception: he enlisted the help of a nutritionist.
“I’m really putting all my eggs in one basket toward this one thing,” Reed remembers thinking.
Now fully in tune with his body at age 23—Reed is listed at 225 pounds—the southpaw’s arsenal is nearly complete, too.
Reed’s fastball can reach the upper 90s, but he displays better command of his heater when he tones the velocity down to the low-to-mid-90s. He’s upgraded his slider from what was a spinning breaking ball with no action to a devastating strikeout pitch. (Around the 15-second mark of this video clip, Reed’s slider starts out of the strike zone before devilishly dive-bombing, nearly slamming into the batter’s right foot as his futile swing catches nothing but air.) Reed claims that he can throw his preferred method of batter termination for a strike at any point, and that he plans to add an element of extreme prejudice to the slider before long.
“I’m trying to make it look like a fastball for as long as possible,” Reed says of his slider, without a hint of sympathy for unsuspecting hitters.
But every quality major league starter needs a third pitch, and after years of work, Reed believes his changeup has gotten “insanely better.”
In mid-February, Baseball America ranked Reed as the 34th-best prospect in all of baseball. Six weeks later, Reed was making a case to be included in the Reds’ Opening Day rotation after walking six, striking out 16, and notching a 2.87 ERA in 15.2 spring frames.
And yet, service time and Super 2 windows need be observed, so as the Reds pitching staff continues a path toward the inept section of baseball immortality, Reed must settle for mowing down International League competition for the Louisville Bats.
(Memo to Reed: if you believe in repeated fate, there’s an Olive Garden 12 miles due east of Louisville Slugger Field on Hurstbourne Lane.)