Chris Reed isn’t your typical top-rated prospect. Born in London, England, he has a record of just 1-9 since the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him 16th overall in 2011. A closer in his junior year at Stanford, the 22-year-old southpaw transitioned to a starting role this season with High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga. Limited to 77 innings, Reed proceeded to make 11 relief appearances in the Arizona Fall League.
David Laurila: Why did the Dodgers send you to the Arizona Fall League?
Chris Reed: I actually asked them if I could play winter ball. There were a couple of reasons. One was to throw a few more innings, since my innings count was low. The other was to work on my secondary pitches. Those would be my slider, which I lost about halfway through the year — in Chattanooga — and also my changeup. It’s important to have three pitches as a starter.
DL: How did you end up throwing fewer innings than planned?
CR: It was basically the setback I had in May. That’s what started it, and maybe I just came out of the gate a little too hot. I wasn’t used to [starting] and was throwing too much in between starts. Because of that, they wanted to take things cautious and make sure I made the necessary adjustments to pro ball. From there, it was a decision by upper management to leave me at three innings. I was going to build up from there, but then I experienced some blisters.
DL: Was the setback basically a dead arm?
CR: It was some shoulder soreness. It wasn’t serious, but it was enough to skip a few starts and make them cautious about my transition. My shoulder is fine. There are no lingering problems.
DL: Why did you lose the feel for your slider?
CR: Right before the Future’s Game. I had a start in Chattanooga and it was about 100 degrees with 100% humidity. I was sweating so much that I spiked my slider so my knuckles were actually on the ball. I developed a huge blister — I still have a pretty big scar from it — and had to change my grip. Because of that, I lost the feel for the pitch. I struggled as a result, because it made me mainly a fastball pitcher.
DL: How did you alter the grip?
CR: I worked with Chuck Crim, who was my pitching coach, and Rafael Chaves, our coordinator. Basically, all I did was move the knuckle off the ball and put just the fingertip of my index finger on it. It took awhile to get used to it. What happened was it wasn’t as sharp as before. Then I ended up changing my arm angle, which isn’t what you want to do. Hitters could see the higher arm angle when a slider was coming. It wasn’t necessarily a bad pitch, but they could pick it up easily.
DL: What about your changeup?
CR: I cut it throughout most of the year. I’ve been working with Matt Herges, my pitching coach here in Arizona, and have actually gotten it to where it runs like my two-seam. I struggled with that all year, changing grips. It’s a feel pitch, so it’s taken some time. Working with Herges, I’ve been playing with the different pressures on the inside of the ball.
DL: Was your fastball velocity impacted by your move to the rotation?
CR: It went down a little bit with starting, but I felt like I still had plenty of life on the ball, in the low-90s. I had starts where I was 92-94. I throw all two-seamers. That’s something I’ve always done.
DL; Is your ground-ball rate important to your success?
CR: Yes. It kind of tapered off, but I do like to think of myself more as a sinkerball pitcher. Having a good groundball rate is a key for me if I want to be an effective big-league starter. I like to get quick outs, and everybody loves double plays.
I like to focus on the glove and hit that spot. I’m less in the power mode and more in the old-school mode of hitting the glove. Everything for me is down in the zone.
DL: Is your adrenaline level different as a starter?
CR: You have to pace yourself a little more. You can’t come out full-bore in the first inning, as though you’re a closer. But in terms of actual adrenaline throughout the game, I think whenever you’re pitching, you’re going to have a lot of it. You maybe just manage it a little better as a starter.
DL: You also have to repeat your mechanics longer. Was that an issue?
CR: Not necessarily repeating, but there have been a few adjustments, and in terms of repeating those, yeah. When you’ve thrown one way for so long, you can pretty much repeat your mechanics. You may lose the feel on one of your pitches, but in terms of control, I think the biggest fault is that my ball will either cut or run. It will cut or run right out of the zone.
DL: Is your delivery pretty standard?
CR: Some people say I have a little funk to me, but I’m mainly just three-quarters — low three-quarters — with a pretty high leg kick. Nothing all that unique.
DL: What makes your delivery funky?
CR: My front arm comes out a little jerky. I guess you could say that’s where the funk comes from. I kind of experimented with that during the offseason, and liked it.
DL: Was the organization fine with that?
CR: They kind of wanted me to tone it down a little bit, and over the course of the year I think I did. But when I first started, I was a little jerky. Probably about halfway through the season — or maybe three-quarters of the way — I toned it down a little bit.
DL: When was the decision made to turn you into a starter?
CR: It was actually a discussion before the draft, with all the teams. They’ll ask you how you see yourself, and at that time I told them I wanted to be a starter. I just feel more comfortable in the role. I like the routine, plus you’re more valuable to an organization if they can develop you as a front-end starter. It’s very valuable to be able to eat innings at the big-league level. They liked the idea, so we ran with it. It might take a little longer — it may take another year and a half — but in the end, it’s probably better for both me and for the organization.
DL: Any final thoughts?
CR: I’m working on being a smarter pitcher. I want to get quick, groundball outs. The strikeout total may not be what most people like in a front-end starter, but a guy who will eat innings and get a lot of ground balls is valuable to any organization. Hopefully I can do that with the Dodgers.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.