The Houston Astros’ rebuilding process began to pay dividends in 2015 as several of their highly-rated prospects finally started making their way up from the minors. The next phase of progress for the Astros will be winning a division title and making a serious run at the World Series. Leading the charge of a second wave of prospects is highly touted A.J. Reed. Reed brings a resume dotted with accolades and honors. But, does he have what it takes to succeed at baseball’s highest level?
Reed was named Baseball America’s 2015 Minor League Player of the Year, becoming the first player in Astros history to win the award. He was also named MiLB.com Offensive Player of the Year, ESPN.com’s Prospect of the Year and a Baseball America Minor League All-Star in addition to being a finalist for the USA Today 2015 Minor League Player of the Year award. The second-round pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2014 slashed .340/.432/.612 with 34 home runs and 127 runs batted in last season in High-A and Double-A.
Reed was a two-way star at Kentucky, playing first base as well as being the Wildcats’ Friday night starter on the mound. As a junior in 2014, Reed hit .336/.476/.735 and led the nation in home runs with 23. As a pitcher he was 12–2 with a 2.09 ERA and 71 strikeouts. He was the winner of the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy. He also won numerous other awards, including the John Olerud Award, SEC Player of the Year, National Player of the Year from Collegiate Baseball and American Baseball Coaches Association, as well as Baseball America College Player Of The Year. He was also the SEC Male Athlete of the Year for all sports.
Reed will come to spring training with an opportunity to make the Astros’ roster in only his second full season of professional baseball. He will be in competition with the incumbent at first base, Jon Singleton, who has struggled mightily offensively. Also in the mix will be Tyler White, whose underdog story as a 33rd round pick in 2013 will provide good theater against the top prospect Reed.
The general concern on Reed would be that as he gets at-bats against advanced pitching that he would come back to earth and his lack of bat speed might be his downfall. That has yet to happen, and all Reed has done is hit at every level he has been at. And hit well at that. He combines his exceptional power with a solid understanding of the strike zone and has an outstanding ability to put the bat on the ball. This combination is far more than just being a three true outcome player as some have labeled him. The left-handed power and ability to control the strike zone have helped to offset his 19.6 percent strikeout rate.
Moving forward, Reed will need to keep the consistency of 2015 going. He is not going to put up the same numbers once he makes it to Houston. He should be able to avoid the long slump and high strikeout rate issues that have befallen Chris Carter and Jon Singleton. Reed will more than likely fall somewhere in between. He is a proven defender at his position and is athletic enough to make the plays necessary to stick at the position.
Reed has a good shot to make the club at least as a backup out of spring training. Starting 2016 at Triple-A Fresno would probably only result in more gaudy minor league numbers as the Grizzlies play in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. His next step of development just might very well be at the big-league level. Handing Reed the starting job might be a gamble the Astros don’t want to take immediately with their eyes on a bigger postseason prize, but he just might bull his way into the mix and force the Astros hand.