The Runner Sports

Attack Of The Baby Astros, Pt. 1: A.J. Reed, And The Bat Reborn

Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch doesn’t know it yet, but he’s heading for a collision of decisions around the end of March. A.J. Reed is one of a handful of Astro prospects seeing to it by having a bang-up spring.

Related: Attack of the Baby Astros, Pt. 2: Colin Moran Sees the Day

Reed has mastered Triple-A, and seemed overwhelmed in a brief stint with Houston in 2016. In fact, it’s likely his name came up in trade talks this past offseason.

There were teams who may have tried to woo the large left-handed slugger, certain he was destined to be the second coming of Boog Powell. Others may have heard Houston GM Jeff Luhnow mention Reed’s name, and recoil at the thought he may just end up being nothing more than Brett Wallace lite.

A Good Spring Reed

Like Colin Moran, Teo Hernandez, and Tyler White, Reed was optioned to minor league camp on March 21, and will begin 2017 at AAA Fresno. Reed, however, increased his stock with Astros brass by slashing a spring .306/.444/.667 in 36 at-bats.

His grand slam to right (off a right-hander) in the 7th inning, March 12, pulled the Astros ahead in their game against Washington, 4-3, before the Nats ended up besting the ‘Stros, 5-4, with two late runs.

“It’s been a really good spring so far,” Reed said recently, coloring in a new shade of “understatement.”

“I’m just trying to have good at-bats and hit the ball hard and swing at the right pitches. Right now, I’m seeing the ball well and having some good swings.”

Reed is listed at a hulking 6’4″ (8 inches shy of 1.29 Altuves) and a generous 275 lbs. It’s likely he’s a few pounds lighter, shooting for, and reaching an offseason goal of more mobility.

He has been successful, too, this spring, going with the pitches, hitting the other way, and clearly showing a more pronounced confidence. One of his spring homers was against a lefty pitcher, and one missile was intercepted by a 30-mile-an-hour gale, preventing its otherwise inevitable landing in tater country.

Reed’s improvement has not gone unnoticed by Hinch: “Reed’s at-bats have been better in the last couple of games. The base hits to left against the shift, the pull homer in the air was very impressive.”

The Struggle to Avoid the AAA Ceiling

Reed gathered 122 at-bats in his MLB debut last season, managing only a .164 average, including .067 (1-for-15) against southpaws. At AAA Fresno, he hit .291 with 15 dingers and 50 RBIs in 261 ABs last year, including .256 with 4 homers and 17 RBIs in 78 at-bats against lefties.

Video: Watch Reed get the best of the Mets’ Cespedes, Spring ’16, by hitting a home run under the fence!

“It’s definitely good to get the results,” Reed waxed, philosophically. “I’m not focused on end results, just hitting the ball hard. Eventually, if you do that over time, you get results. It’s been really good.”

In last year’s spring camp, Reed was immersed in a four-way battle for first base, eventually won by Tyler White. This year, he’s fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster, as either 1B or DH. With Yulieski Gurriel slated to be the team’s first baseman from Opening Day, and multi-position utility man Marwin Gonzalez a more-than-capable fill-in, Reed’s climb is definitely uphill.

Video: Watch Reed slam his first MLB home run, last July, a towering blast to center

Houston’s premier prospect a year ago, Reed was named the Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year for 2015, smacking 34 home runs, scoring 113 runs, and slashing a .340/.432/.612 across 135 games between Class A-Advanced Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi.

On top of his home run title, he led all Minor Leaguers, in ’15, with 127 RBIs and 320 total bases and all full-season players with the .612 slugging percentage and a 1.044 OPS.

This reporter even predicted Reed the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner, eventually won by Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer.

The Birth of Andrew Joseph

Born in May 1993, with Tracy Lawrence’s “Alibis” wafting in the air, Reed grew up father-less in Terre Haute, IN.

Video: Watch heart-tugging interview with Reed, which includes footage of his two-way U of Kentucky tenure. 

Before attending Kentucky, Reed attended Terre Haute South Vigo High School, where he was a two-way player, a two-time first-team all-state honoree, and a three-time all-conference player. He was promptly drafted in the 25th round of the 2011 Amateur Draft by the New York Mets.

He decided to attend Kentucky, instead, and became effective in the starting rotation as a key lefty starter, as well as the Wildcats’ main offensive power source.

In Reed’s three years on the mound for the ‘Cats, he compiled a 2.83 ERA in 248 innings, striking out 174, while walking only 53. He ended with a 1.23 WHIP and gave up about a hit (252) an inning.

As a hitter at UK, he amassed 637 ABs and popped 40 homers, 35 doubles, 168 RBIs, and a .306 BA. A promising .415 OBP added to his impressive .974 OPS.

Video: Watch highlight-filled video of Reed’s UK tenure, celebrating his being named unanimous 2014 National Player of the Year

Spring Forward

“For me, it’s that he’s going to hit for power and for average, which is huge,” Lancaster JetHawks batting coach Darryl Robinson projected two years ago. “He can drive in a lot of runs, hit a lot home runs, and he’s going to hit for a high average, is how I see it. He’s a Triple Crown type of guy.”

To break camp with the big team, though, Reed will have to show consistent contact and power against, mainly, quality left-handed hurlers. He’s earned his stripes against righties, and taking up a roster spot to platoon with Gurriel at 1B wouldn’t make sense.

The Astros have too much money tied into the recent Cuban signee, and Houston would rather Reed get regular at-bats in Fresno than warm the bench at Minute Maid as a part-time player.

Short of packaging him in a trade, either now or in July, he’ll bide his time at AAA, and wait for an opportunity brought about by injury or unforeseen lack of production somewhere in Houston at 1B or DH.

Of course, Reed could make Hinch’s looming roster decision a little easier, I guess, by somehow ceasing his improvements, but I don’t see that happening.

Neither does he.

Related: Reed Could Step Up at 1B in the Astros’ Bizarro World

Related: March Magnets! Strong Astros Roster Repels Reed’s Iron-Clad Spring!

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

At TRS, you'll get full Astros coverage, minor league peeks, player profiles, interviews, MLB historical perspective, and maybe a little rock'n'roll!
Brad Kyle