Mississippi Duo Charts Unlikely Top 100 Path

Reds lefthander Cody Reed has most everything a scout looks for in a lefty starter: a big body, the size that can denote durability and the plus stuff that makes hitters wince.

Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Alford fits the prototype for a top-of-the-order table setter. He has a solid understanding of the strike zone and the quick hands that allows him to line singles and doubles. And he’s got the speed to make pitchers nervous when he’s standing on first base.

Alford (No. 25 on the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list) and Reed (No. 34 on the Top 100) are among the best prospects in the minors heading into the 2016 season. Neither came close to making this list last year. They are also two of the unlikeliest Top 100 Prospects, albeit for different reasons.

Skin And Bones

The first time Cody Reed was told he was going to be a pro pitcher, he didn’t believe it.

A high school lefty with a pencil-like build—as Reed says “skinny doesn’t begin to describe it”—and a low-80s fastball, Reed had plenty of success but little stuff.

“Out of high school I thought, ‘I just don’t have it,” Reed said.

But Northwest Mississippi JC assistant coach (and former big leaguer) Bill Selby saw some glimmer of the future saying, “This guy will get paid to play one day.”

“Who thinks a guy throwing 83 will get paid to play one day?” Reed said.

At the time Reed was just thrilled that Northwest Mississippi was willing to offer him a scholarship. Little did he know that he’d be throwing 15 mph harder before too long.

When Bill saw him, he was this tall lefthander with a ton of arm speed. He was 83-84 mph. But Bill kept saying, he’s got a chance. You see that arm speed and body. If he fills out, this might be someone special,” Northwest Mississippi head coach Mark Carson said.

In just the span of a couple of years, the 6-foot-5, 165-pound high school senior turned into a much more imposing 6-foot-5, 230-pound man. His fastball came along for the ride.

Reed remembers the first time he cracked 90 mph. It was the Mississippi high school all-star game after his senior season. After a few weeks of down time, the fresh-armed Reed touched some 90s and 91s in a short stint.

As he hit the weight room and worked on a long-toss program, Reed found himself touching the low 90s more regularly as a freshman at Northwest Mississippi. But probably just as important was Carson’s edict–take it easier.

Reed loves basketball. He played basketball all the time. As a freshman at Northwest Mississippi Reed would spend all night playing intramural games. Eventually Carson took Reed’s basketball away. It still sits in Carson’s garage. Carson was worried about Reed getting hurt, but more importantly, he knew basketball was wiping away the weight gains they were working on.

“I told him, we can’t put weight on you if you burn 3,000 calories every night,” Carson said.

Carson got Reed to junk his loopy curveball for a harder and sharper slider. And with less basketball games, Reed started to gain some needed weight. By the end of his freshman year, Reed had improved enough that he had earned a scholarship to Ole Miss set to begin after his sophomore season. But as he kept getting bigger and his fastball got firmer, it became clear Reed would not make it to Oxford. For his first start of his sophomore season Reed threw in front of four scouts. He pitched well and showed off a mid-90s fastball.

“The next start after that every team was there,” Reed said. “They were right on the chain-link fence watching me in the bullpen.”

After the initial nerves of pitching in front of such an audience subsided, Reed enjoyed the ride. His parents cheered every time he got a questionnaire from a team. And his draft-night party was a wild ride for friends and family.

“The experience of signing for X number of dollars is fantastic but having those guys cheering for me? That was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Reed said. “I was drafted on the first day. That’s something I’ll never forget, being around all those friends and family. It was awesome. It still gives me chills talking about it.”

The Royals picked Reed in the second round of the 2013 draft, signing him for just under $1.2 million. His first two pro seasons were a massive struggle as his stuff backed up and his control troubles worsened. After ranking 28th on the Royals Top 30 Prospects list heading into 2014, Reed didn’t crack the Top 30 last season after posting a 5.46 ERA in low Class A Lexington.

All that changed in 2015, Reed can’t point to a mechanical tweak or a new pitch. But he says he felt better about his offseason workouts and his arm when spring training began. He had added flexibility, which enabled him to get to his stuff more consistently. A good first outing led to a good second one. Before long he was being sent to high Class A Wilmington, checking off one of his goals for the year. He was then named to the Carolina-California League all-star game, checking off another goal. A promotion to Double-A followed, checking off another goal. And then he was traded to the Reds in the July deal that sent Johnny Cueto to the Royals.

Reed had gotten the Reds’ attention in part with a dominating inning at the all-star game where he was blowing away hitters with a 97-99 mph fastball.

He went 13-9, 2.41 between three stops. Scouts are impressed with his promising slider/changeup combination and the once-stiff delivery is now low effort.

“I want my mechanics to look as easy as possible,” Reed said. “I want it to look effortless.”

Two-Sport Dreams

Alford had always dreamed of being a big league baseball player, but that was only part of his goals.

“I wanted to play in the NFL and Major League Baseball,” Alford said. “I wanted to be a Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders. I understand that was back then. It’s a lot harder to do that now.”

The Blue Jays gave Alford a chance to keep the dream alive longer than most. Alford had told teams to not draft him since he planned to play baseball and football at Southern Miss. But Toronto offered him $750,000 in the third round to play pro baseball around his college football schedule. As Alford saw it, he would have been crazy to not give it a try.

“I didn’t think they’d say, ‘We’ll give us this much money and we’ll also let you play college football. You just come play with us six-to-eight weeks in the summer.’ I didn’t expect that to come up,” Alford said. “I was shocked. Why not play baseball six-to-eight weeks in the summer? If they will pay for my scholarship at the same time? That works out.”

It hasn’t always worked out to plan–Alford’s football career never really got going between a year as a quarterback at Southern Mississippi and two years at Mississippi as a defensive back, but those stumbles led him to a realization. As much as Alford liked football, baseball was his sport. But he also realized that the process of delaying his full-fledged acceptance of his destiny ensured he could jump into the sport with a clear head.

“It’s kind of like I was running from baseball a little bit. I wanted football to work out but football didn’t work out,” he said. “I gained a love for baseball. The whole time baseball has probably been my better option. (The Blue Jays) made it easy. I had a chance to play football.

“It’s not like I came out of high school, played just baseball and would look back and wish I had played college football. I had the opportunity to play (football). I tried football and it didn’t work out. I can focus 100 percent. I don’t have to have any regrets.”

Alford had played only five games for the Blue Jays in 2012, six in 2013 and 14 in 2014. While his contemporaries moved up the pro ladder, Alford was barely getting his cleats broken in.

“It was keeping me from getting too rusty,” Alford said. “I never worked out until I got to baseball. I’d start hitting a week or two before I got to extended (spring training). I didn’t hit much (otherwise).”

So as Alford focused on baseball for the first time, it would have been logical for 2015 to have turned into a year of setbacks and glimpses of future potential. Instead Alford managed to make the transition to baseball look easy. He hit .293/.418/.394 with low Class A Lansing, earning a Midwest League all-star appearance. A midseason promotion to the Florida State League didn’t slow him down as he hit .302/.380/.444 in Dunedin.

“He should have had more atrophy in there,” a pro scout who saw Alford several times in 2015 said. “It shows you that superior athletes with good instruction can overcome anything.”

If Alford was able to handle Class A despite two and a half years largely away from the game, the Blue Jays can only dream of what he can do as an encore. The Reds are thrilled to add Reed to a deep group of upper-level starting pitching prospects.

Both Alford and Reed have gone from nowhere to the top half of the Top 100 in a year. The jump from there to the big leagues is even a bigger step, but both have a chance to do so before too long.

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