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Buddy Reed Is The Surprise Of The Cal League

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Buddy Reed (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif.—Monday was a good day for Buddy Reed.

In the morning, Reed was named a starter for the 2018 California League all-star game. In the evening, he delivered a stellar performance to prove he was worthy of that distinction.

Reed went 3-for-4 with three singles and a walk, stole a base, drove in two runs, threw out a runner at second base from left field and raced into the left-center gap to prevent a game-tying double on Monday evening. It was the 23-year-old Padres prospect’s latest all-around effort in a season full of them, as high Class A Lake Elsinore fell 8-7 to Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers).

“I definitely feel like I’m becoming that complete player,” Reed said. “Hitting for power. Running. Throwing. Doing all the things I can for my team.

“I feel like God gifted me with the ability to do it, and I guess right now this year is the time it’s coming out. It’s obviously great to see that it’s working.”

Reed has been the surprise of the 2018 season in the Cal League. The switch-hitting outfielder leads the league with a .338 batting average. He has nine home runs (including three inside-the-park home runs), 29 stolen bases and a .944 OPS.

It’s a sudden and unexpected turnaround from Reed’s previous offensive performance. Reed batted .262 his junior season at Florida, hit .254 with no home runs in 2016 after being made a second-round pick and last year hit .234 with a .685 OPS at low Class A Fort Wayne.

Long-known as an premier defender with elite speed and a cannon arm, Reed had done little to convince evaluators he would ever hit enough to be a major leaguer.

Even Reed’s own manager had doubts at the start of the year.

“The first two weeks of the season, pretty much he was having that long swing, that very stiff swing,” Lake Elsinore manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “And then he worked with our hitting coach Doug Banks on getting more hands with the swing, and he likes it, he trusts it, and he’s showing it’s paying off.”

Banks, 33, was Reed’s hitting coach at Fort Wayne last year and built a rapport with Reed, even though the numbers weren’t there.

Now at Lake Elsinore and in his second season working with Reed, Banks began emphasizing a new tact to keep Reed short and direct to the ball.

“Just his ability to keep his posture,” Banks said. “Not push, not get long. He’s got long limbs, long levers, so it gets long real quick if he loses his posture. But he’s done a really good job of maintaining his ability to keep his turn tight and connected.”

Reed’s improvement hasn’t been limited to just one side of the batter’s box. He is batting .340 with a .941 OPS lefthanded and a .326 with a .957 OPS righthanded.

“That’s a part of my game that’s very important to me,” Reed said. “It’s unique. Not a lot of players can switch-hit. It’s a big part of me becoming a complete player.”

The focus of Reed’s improvement has overwhelmingly been on his offensive side, but that has not taken away from the other parts of his game.

After leading off the first inning Monday with a single, Reed promptly stole second base, his 29th steal in 34 attempts this season. In the second inning, he threw out Omar Estevez trying to stretch a single into a double with a pinpoint throw to the bag from the left-field corner. In the third inning, he battled through a long at-bat with two strikes and lifted a sacrifice fly to start the scoring. In the fourth, with Lake Elsinore nursing the 1-0 lead Reed provided with his sac fly, Reed bolted into the left-center gap and to rob Connor Wong of a potential game-tying double and preserve the Storm’s lead.

“He’s a complete ballplayer,” Rodriguez said. “Not only that he’s hitting, but the whole approach to his career. He cares about his defense. He cares about his baserunning. He knows he could be a five big tool player, and now that he’s aware, he’s working on it. He’s not only having good numbers but he shows up early, he works on his baserunning, he works on his defense, he’s taking pride. He’s always been a good athlete. It was a matter of him learning to play the game, and he’s shown it.”

Becoming a threat at the plate was the final—and most difficult—piece needed to complete Reed’s game. Now that he’s got it, he’s beginning to show just how much of an impact player he can be.

“Mindset, mechanics, his health, his strength, everything has changed,” Banks said. “With Buddy, it’s just about him turning his talents into grit where he can show up everyday and perform with it. His ability and talent, it’s off the charts, everything is plus. He’s done a great job finding that urgency, transforming his talent into grit and becoming a good baseball player.”

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Gavin Lux Is Driven To Succeed

The 2016 first-round shortstop altered his swing path to hit more balls in the air and hit varied pitch types.

NEWS AND NOTES

— Padres' No. 3 prospect Michel Baez pitched with diminished velocity early and allowed eight hits and two runs in 5.1 innings. He walked one and struck out six. Baez, who sat 94-97 mph and touched 99 last season, sat 90-94 mph through the first four innings on Monday. He reached back for more in a big spot in the fifth inning, touching 96 and 97 mph for the first time to work out of a bases loaded, one-out jam with a strikeout and a flyout. The 6-foot-8 Baez missed the first two and a half weeks of the season with a back injury and has pitched with lesser velocity most of the year.

“It’s a matter of him feeling comfortable physically,” Rodriguez said. “Second half of the season I think his velocity will come back. He’s getting there. I don’t think anything is bothering him physically. It’s just getting the confidence that he can go out there and finish his pitches. “

Baez’s 73-77 mph curveball was ineffective and he shelved his 84-86 mph slider after the second inning, but his 85-86 mph changeup induced a few popups. Even with his struggles, Baez departed with a shutout intact before reliever Elliot Ashbeck allowed two inherited runners to score.

“His fastball was there, his secondary pitches were out of the zone ... but even when he’s not having his best night, he does what he did today,” Rodriguez said. “When he came out the game it was 3-0. Even without his best stuff he competes and keeps you in the game.”

— Dodgers' No. 13 prospect Gavin Lux went 4-for-5 with a double and two RBIs, including the go-ahead RBI single in the ninth inning. The 2016 Dodgers first-round pick was most noticeably smooth defensively at shortstop until the seventh inning, when he uncorked a throw that would have landed in the first row of the stands if not for the protective netting. The error, Lux’s 14th in 43 games at shortstop this season, allowed the eventual game-tying run to reach base. But Lux made up for it later, lacing a single through to left side to drive home the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth to cap a four-run Rancho Cucamonga rally.

— Rancho Cucamonga righthander Stetson Allie, a 2010 second-round pick who began his career as a pitcher, converted to playing the outfield and then converted back to pitching in 2017, sat 98-99 mph on his fastball and mixed in a swing-and-miss 89 mph slider in one inning of relief. Allie, 27, missed up and in with his fastball repeatedly and nearly hit batters in the head multiple times, but still delivered a scoreless inning with a pair of strikeouts.

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