LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Cody Reed did not know anything about service time, Super 2 or starting the clock.
“I didn’t know how all that worked coming into spring training,” Reed said. “I was just trying to make the team and show my best, show Bryan Price and those guys I have a shot. I didn’t know the Super 2 even existed. I heard about Kris Bryant. I really don’t think about that much. When I’m ready, I’m ready. I’ll be up there.”
When to bring up Reed and the other prized pitching prospect, Robert Stephenson, has been debated a lot by Reds fans this season, especially since it’s hard to talk much about the big league club at this point. Reed and Stephenson, meanwhile, keep pitching on for Triple-A Louisville.
Stephenson has been up with the Reds twice for spot starts. He’s pitched well in both. His second outing — seven innings of one-run ball — was as good a start as the Reds have had this year. He was sent out the next day.
“Whatever they want to do is fine with me,” Stephenson said. “I just want to continue to learn and get better for when I do get back.”
The logic behind keeping Stephenson and Reed in the minors is sound from a long-term standpoint. By delaying their call-up until mid-June, the Reds will effectively be able to control them for an additional year. The Chicago Cubs delayed Bryant’s call-up last year to keep him from getting a full year of service time.
The Reds are past that with Stephenson and Reed, but they can still become Super 2s. Players with three years of service are eligible for arbitration; the top 22 percent of players in service time with between two and three years of service become Super 2s.
Generally, waiting till early June keeps players from getting Super 2 status.
If Reed and Stephenson earned Super 2 status, they would be eligible for arbitration -- provided they get to the majors and stick -- in 2020 and free agency in 2023.
If Reed and Stephenson are as good as the Reds expect, it amounts savings of millions of dollars. But you get the juxtaposition you had Sunday: Alfredo Simon made another bad start for the Reds, while Stephenson made another good start for the Bats.
Stephenson, a 23-year-old right-hander, is 3-2 with a 3.02 ERA for Louisville and 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in a pair of spot starts for the Reds. Reed, a 23-year-old left-hander, is 2-2 with a 2.08 ERA for the Bats.
Meanwhile, the Reds are putting up unprecedentedly bad pitching numbers.
The Reds insist that keeping them in Triple-A has an much to with development as it does with service time.
“We wanted them to get a certain amount of time at each level,” General Manager Dick Williams said. “We also wanted to avoid the up-and-down like we had with Robert. Once we bring them up, we want them up for good.
“The other thing is with the rotation so much in flux we wanted to wait until some of the steady guys are back. If you bring them up prematurely with the team struggling, it adds pressure. They have to be the savior and save the bullpen. That’s a lot to ask.”
Williams said both will be up at some point this year.
While it is easy to look at the numbers and surmise that Stephenson and Reed are better than what the Reds have at the big league level, Louisville pitching coach Ted Power says you have to look at more than just the numbers to determine if a pitcher is ready to be successful in the majors.
“There’s more to it than that,” he said. "There are little idiosyncrasies of the game that both of them can get better at: fielding their position, controlling the running game, recognizing situations where it might not be such a good idea to challenge somebody, pitching around people. Major league pitchers — the good pitchers — the way they can handle a game if they’re giving up a run here and there.
“I’m not saying they’re not pretty good at it," Power added. "But you get to the big leagues and things get faster. Hitters are better. The crowds are bigger. Those types of things are things that young pitchers sometimes have trouble with.”
The minors afford a chance to push Stephenson and Reed under less stressful situations, the coach said. Sunday, Stephenson was allowed to run his pitch total to 109 and given a chance to get out of jams.
Stephenson has the stuff to get major leaguers out. His problem, at times, has been throwing strikes. He has walked 21 and struck out 35 in 41 2/3 innings for Louisville.
“He's had days where he’s really locked in,” Power said. “Then, he’s had a couple where he wasn’t. He has been working on some things that (pitching coordinator) Tony Fossas and I talked about to see if we can get some of his velocity back that he had in his Dayton days. I didn’t see him back then but he was touching 100. It was crazy. We’re doing some things to see if we can get a little bit of that back.”
Stephenson topped out at 96 Sunday, but his control was impeccable. He didn’t walk a batter until he tired in the seventh. His breaking stuff was good — a big key for any young pitcher.
“We’re also trying to get it so he can get the angle, especially on his curveball and his split that he needs for those to be effective,” Power said. “All it really boils down to is him releasing the ball from a taller stature. The progress is good. I’m very encouraged. I think he is, too.”
Reed, one of the three pitchers in the Johnny Cueto trade, was the talk of spring training. A lot of organization insiders rate him higher than Stephenson at this point. Pitching Triple-A for the first time. Reed has allowed only 26 hits and eight walks while striking out 33 in 34 2/3 innings.
“I’m playing a game I’ve played since I was little,” Reed said. “It’s all the same game. I’m having fun as much as I can. Triple-A hasn’t been as much of an adjustment as I thought it would be.”
Power raves about Reed.
“I really like this kid, not only for the way he competes but for the way he prepares, the way he trains, the focus,” Power said. “And I think he’s got electric stuff. He throws four-seam, he throws a two-seam with tremendous tilt to it. His slider is one of best I think I’ve ever seen. His change-up was a little hard, but we’ve talked and worked on some things. His last outing he was like 83 to 85 before where he was up to 88 with that change-up. He’s making progress with that.
“I’m really excited about Cody.”
Reed will get the call at some point this year. In the meantime, he said he's OK with Triple-A.
“I really don’t think about stuff like that,” Reed said. “All I can do is go on the mound and pitch. I can’t say: ‘Hey, I’m ready.’ It’s their call.”