This Bucs prospect's slider is making for a smooth transition to starter

May 25th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Alex Stumpf’s Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PITTSBURGH -- In his three years at West Virginia University, could not quite stick in the Mountaineers’ starting rotation. He certainly had stuff -- a fastball that can get into the mid-90s, a high-spin slider and a changeup that MLB Pipeline graded as 60-grade, during last year’s MLB Draft -- but that mix only really played out of the Mountaineers’ bullpen. He may have been their closer, but he felt he could do more.

Last year, the Pirates’ bet on Reed’s stuff and selected him in the fourth round of the MLB Draft. It’s looking like it could be a good bet, because not only have his pitches played in pro ball, he’s doing it as a starter.

“Kind of have a pitch-to-pitch mentality, rather than more of a, ‘In your face,’ strikeout-based mentality like I used to as a closer last year,” Reed explained over the phone on how his approach has evolved in the new role. “Learning how to become a starter.”

Being a starter has always been the goal for Reed, and there’s a long way to go before the 21-year-old right-hander can firmly put the bullpen in the rearview mirror. But so far, so good. Reed has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a start with Single-A Bradenton, going 3-1 with a 2.02 ERA and 42 strikeouts over 35 2/3 innings. Among qualified Florida State League pitchers, he’s third in ERA, and his .190 batting average against is fourth.

Of his three primary pitches, the slider is the one that appears to have taken off the most in pro ball. It has averaged over 2,600 RPM of spin this season, which is the seventh-highest of all sliders/sweepers in the Pirates’ farm system. It relies on horizontal movement and averages 11.9 inches of glove-side movement. It’s a strike-to-ball offering that hitters have not been able to drive. So far, they are slugging just .077 against the pitch, the fifth-lowest of all sliders in Minor League baseball, partially due to its 58.1% whiff rate.

A mechanical tweak is helping that slider -- and really the whole arsenal -- play up right now, but it wasn’t with his grip or arm action. He and Marauders pitching coach Matt Ford have been working to help him maximize his potential energy and move more directly towards the plate. Reed knew he had some crossfire action while in college, which can sap pitch velocity and movement, but not this much.

“I never realized that I was genuinely cutting off a lot more than I should,” Reed said. “We were focusing on throwing strikes there as well, but it was more of an upper-body focus.”

It’s still a work in progress, and Reed knows there are some days where he can fall into some bad habits. But when he’s clicking, the slider can get that frisbee action, causing his fastball and changeup to play up, too.

“Just making that adjustment is helping the slider come out of the hand better than it did before,” Reed said.

While Reed was only about 75 miles from PNC Park at WVU, he can count on one hand how many times he went to PNC Park in his time there: Once with his team in the stands, once as a fan and then twice when the Mountaineers played games there. He didn’t get to appear in either of those games, though, so he’s yet to toe the rubber at one of the best ballparks in the game.

That just gives him more motivation to get better and make a proper trip in the future.

“I haven’t stepped on the field in a game yet,” Reed said. “I’m looking forward to that.”