Reed continues to develop for Gators

Buddy Reed had a decision to make about his future.

As a three-sport athlete growing up, the Rhode Island native wasn’t sure which one he wanted to pursue. Hockey always had a special place in his heart, and he knew he was good at it. Soccer might have been a little behind hockey, but it was something he enjoyed playing.

The thought of baseball was always intriguing.

Reed knew he was talented enough to play baseball at the college level, but he also knew that his talent wasn’t where it could be if he played the sport year-round. During his sophomore year at St. George’s School in Rhode Island, the outfielder knew he wanted to take baseball more seriously and try to get recruited by college programs. He went through a Perfect Game showcase and just wanted to find a way for colleges to notice him.

It happened when he traveled south to participate in a showcase at UCF. Florida assistant coach Brad Weitzel was in the stands and noticed a young outfielder who was in charge of the bucket during batting practice. Weitzel was immediately drawn to Reed’s energy and how his teammates reacted to him. The Florida assistant decided to stick around and watch Reed play in a double header the next day. Reed never even knew he was there, and if he did notice Weitzel in his Gators clothes, he would’ve assumed Weitzel was there to see someone else.

Weitzel liked what he saw. He returned to Gainesville and met with coach Kevin O’Sullivan and fellow assistant Craig Bell, wanting to share the news of a prospect that would soon be added to the Gators’ recruiting board.

“We’ve got a switch-hitting athlete that is really interesting,” O’Sullivan recalled Weitzel saying.

Bell made a trip soon after to watch Reed and came back with a similar impression.

“(Bell) came back scratching his head, too, going ‘I don’t know what I just saw.’ Great body, all kinds of tools,” Bell told O’Sullivan.

Soon after, O’Sullivan went to see Reed play during a showcase in Atlanta. He went to a few games, wanting to see how the athlete’s bat would play in a game situation. Reed didn’t know any of the Florida coaches were in the stands at that time, and he admitted on Wednesday that he probably wouldn’t have known who O’Sullivan was at the time if he saw him.

As the Florida staff started to show interest and first got in contact with Reed’s dad, the Reed family started to do its research on the program in Gainesville. They knew about the athletic program at Florida, but they wanted to know the specifics and how Reed would develop in the baseball program. Florida would end up as the only baseball program in the country offering Reed any scholarship money.

“We saw that so many guys before me came here and got first-round draft picks and all that good stuff, all-Americans, going to Omaha for eight years, now nine,” Buddy Reed said. “I wasn’t really hesitant, it was just more of an excited feeling to get down here, meet with the coaches, see some of the players on that official visit.”

The Florida staff knew he would be able to handle the defensive portion of the outfield and had a strong arm. His speed would play on the bases, and Reed had the frame to add plenty more muscle. They had to teach him how to hit, especially against the type of pitching he would face in the Southeastern Conference.

He came for a visit to campus the weekend of Florida football’s game against Arkansas during the fall of 2013 and quickly fell in love. His decision was already made.

“We came to the field and I could envision myself playing on the field, hopefully playing in the outfield,” Reed said. “It was just an exciting feeling coming down here. Obviously they showed great hospitality, the game was fun, meeting new guys even before I got here was fun. From there I made some really good friends, lifelong friends.”

The visit also made things clear for O’Sullivan. The Florida staff already loved Reed’s upside. They envisioned him as a potential five-tool player once he worked at his craft every day as college baseball players do, and they knew his best days were ahead of him.

But more than that, they fell in love with the energy Reed brings. His teammates all speak highly of him, and he’s one of the most positive players on the team. He plays with energy on the field and has become a fan favorite in two years at Florida.

“When I finally met him and he came on campus, it was a no-brainer personality-wise,” O’Sullivan said. “He has made us look smart. He’s a really talented kid, but he had never really focused in on baseball. When you take a kid like him who has work ethic and ability, good things can happen and you’re seeing that with him.”

Reed was forced to play as a freshman for Florida. There was hesitation about whether or not he was ready for it, but there weren’t many other options. There was so much upside that the Florida coaches threw Reed into the lineup as a starter for 51 of 63 games in 2014. He hit .244 with just seven extra-base hits, all doubles, while stealing just five bases. He played left field for most of the year and handled the position well.

The staff expected more from him in 2015, and that’s exactly what Reed has delivered. The decision was made preseason to move him to center field since he has a stronger arm than Harrison Bader, and Reed has turned into one of the best defensive center fielders in the country.

The offensive numbers have exploded, too. Reed is hitting .313, the fourth highest batting average of the team’s regulars. His extra-base hits have jumped from seven to 22, with 14 doubles, five triples and three home runs. Reed has also stolen 18 bases this year.

“I have to say it’s my teammates that have helped me and obviously the coaches, Craig Bell, Coach O’Sullivan and Coach [Brad] Weitze,” Reed said. “Guys here are always talking to me about different things about hitting, about my load and going early, different stuff. It’s all a credit to other guys in the locker room, off the field in the cage. Then myself, just putting the work in and going out there every day having a positive attitude.”

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