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Dodgers top prospects 2015: Chris Reed, No. 5

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The final player on this list of Dodgers prospects who is unfairly punished for prospect fatigue, Chris Reed didn’t dominate on a third trip through Double-A, but showed consistency in the traits that can make him a capable starter in the major leagues. Reed may not have taken the next step and reached the majors like many may have hoped, but he did raise the floor on his projection. Like Zach Lee, Reed’s ticket to the majors is in his durability, stamina, and the the ability to get ground balls. It’s the latter trait that rates him so highly on this list.

If you’ve watched video of Reed pitch, it doesn’t take long to see what his calling card is. Reed has one of the heaviest fastballs in the minor leagues, and hitters struggle to square it up despite just average velocity. When right, Reed throws the pitch from a low three-quarter’s slot and the ball backs up heavily to his arm side. Reed also does a good job of keeping the pitch down, keeping it from flattening out. Hitters at the Double-A level across the last two seasons have found his fastball increasing tough to square up, and he’s posted similar line drive rates around 16 percent in each stint.

Reed’s command of his fastball is no better than average and probably isn’t likely to increase too much. With the movement that he displays with the pitch, it’s not surprising that he fights his command at times and lets the run on the pitch get away from him. Overall, he keeps the ball around the bottom half of the strike zone and around the plate enough not to run into significant walk rate concerns.

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Reed has two other pitches to keep hitters at bay on the next level. His slider was a weapon for him in college out the Stanford bullpen, but today it just gives him another look from the heavy sinker. He spots the pitch well and likes to work it under the hands of right-handers, and with left-handers he can get them to chase it away. The break is short, but he commands the pitch well and, like the fastball, keeps it down in the zone.

Reed’s change-up has similar movement to his fastball, but like the fastball, he doesn’t command the pitch better than average. This is the pitch I watched that Reed missed his release point on the most and when he does so, it often sails wide to his arm side. Still, his change-up does what it needs to do as a third pitch, and rounds out his repertoire as a starter.

Reed’s delivery tends to draw criticism, and it can be complicated. Reed haunches over at the waist before starting his arm toward home, and he cuts off his body on release by planting his right foot on the first base side of the rubber, giving him a crossfire delivery. While neither aspects are ideal, I believe they both have a hand in generating the sink he produces on his fastball.

To Reed’s credit, he’s been throwing with similar mechanics since he’s been in the system. You can watch 2012 video and see the same haunch and plant foot positioning in his mechanics. If anything is different, his arm slot appears a little lower in 2014 than it did in 2012. A look at Reed’s college footage shows a more upright and streamlined delivery, and Reed had more velocity and a sharper slider then as well, though a part of that could easily be explained away by pitching out of the bullpen.

Reed’s mechanics, arm speed, and sink on his fastball are not geared for max effort and Reed can leave a lot in the tank to pitch deep into games. He threw a major league starter’s workload across Double-A and Triple-A last year, and he completed six or more innings in 14 of his 28 outings. Reed has a durable, athletic build and knows how to conserve pitches while pitching to contact.

Despite a background in the bullpen in college, I don’t see a conversion to the pen to be quite as straightforward at this point. As described above, Reeds current mechanics are not streamlined to throw much harder than he does now, and would likely require some mechanical adjustments to reach 96 mph as he did at Stanford. Additionally, he is ill fitted for a specialist role, showing a reverse platoon last season. Should the Dodgers move Reed to the bullpen mid-season without work to retool his delivery for a max effort approach, I think his upside would be similar to that of Marc Rzepczynski as a lefty ground ball guy that can get strikeouts but lacks the secondary power pitch or better than average command to throw late innings.

That’s not to say Reed can’t successfully convert to relief, but he’s shown significant value as a starter that his strengths ought not be wasted. Only 13 starting pitchers in the major league’s matched Reed’s ground ball rate last year (albeit at Double-A, but Reed’s sink will play at the next level), and of those pitchers, the worst wins above replacement was a 1.5 fWAR by Wily Peralta. Reed’s dream scenario is probably the top guy on the ground ball rate list, Dallas Keuchel. Though Reed lacks the same command of his pitches that Keuchel has demonstrated, he has better overall stuff, a similar durable frame and ability to pitch deep into games. It’s not likely Keuchel repeats his 3.9 fWAR season, nor do I want to suggest similar success for Reed, but both guys have the ability to achieve success in a rotation pitching behind a good infield defense.

The Dodgers are going to need innings from starters beyond their preferred top five this season, and though Reed may not be first in line, his overall stuff might be the best of those available on the 40 man roster in Triple-A this season. Reed might also be the Dodgers most moveable asset as a ready made starter with plus ground ball ability, and could be coveted by teams holding the top major league trade chips at the deadline. I’d personally like to see what Reed could accomplish behind the Dodgers infield defense, and there’s a decent chance we’ll all get to see him at some point in 2015.