June 27, 2016
The Situation: The Astros are white-hot, taking over second place in the AL West over the freezer-burn cold Mariners and positioning themselves for another run at the wild-card. To help with that pennant push, they’ll call on one of their best offensive prospects in the system: First-baseman A.J. Reed.
Background: It may seem hard to believe now, but at one point Reed was one of the best two-way prospects in college baseball while at the University of Kentucky. After a dominant junior year, most believed that his future was with the bat, and that included the Astros who took him with the 42nd pick of the 2014 MLB Draft. To say that his stock shot up upon entering the Houston system would be the understatement of this and many other articles. After posting an impressive .289/.375/.522 line in stops at both Tri-City and Quad Cities (note: That’s a lot of cities), Reed was dominant in 2015, recording a backyard baseball-like .340/.432/.612 with 34 homers and 86 walks for Lancaster and Corpus Christi. He got off to a slow start with ridiculously high expectations, but he’s hit .282/.333/.576 in June, and Houston believes he’s ready to contribute to the big-league club.
Scouting Report: Reed is, for lack of a better term, a big boy. If one was to stereotype him just based on his size, you would expect a guy who relies on power and walks to provide value. That’s not the case with Reed. Yes, there is some length to his swing, and because he’s willing to fall behind in the count there are going to be plenty of strikeouts. He also is a smart hitter who always has a plan of attack. There’s just enough bat speed—along with a swing that stays in the zone, with little wasted movement—to hit line drives to any part of the park, on pitches on any part of the plate. Left-handers have given him trouble in the past, however, and how he adjusts to the filth they’ll be throwing him compared to what he’s seen at the lower levels.
And yes, Reed has power in his left-handed bat as well. His swing isn’t uppercut, but the natural loft along with his strong lower-half gives him plus power potential. If you’re expecting a guy that’s gonna be among the league leaders in bombs, you’ll be disappointed, but 25-30 homer seasons are well within reach.
Defensively, Reed is a really good hitter. Bad joke aside, he will make the plays in front of him and still has an above-average throwing arm, but he’s a 30 runner who isn’t going to wow you with his range. I don’t think he’s a future DH, but you’re not looking at the next John Olerud, either.
Immediate Big League Future: We’ve probably said this a thousand times over the last couple of years, but if Reed is going to be successful, it really does boil down to one thing: Is he going to show the same approach at the big-league level that he did in the minor leagues? That doesn’t mean drawing a ton of walks—pitchers are going to challenge him. But rather, is he going to have the same impressive plan of attack that he has shown at every other level. It’s impossible to say for sure, but because so many rave about his acumen, it’s relatively safe bet. The future is even brighter, but he’s a good enough hitter right now to predict relatively immediate success, especially against right-handed pitching. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Take: On the fantasy side, Reed has been hyped for some time, which may give some casual fantasy players the impression that a call-up was long overdue. In reality, Reed is only in the middle of his second full professional season. While Tyler White struggled for the Astros (some might say predictably) after a fast jump out of the gate, Reed scuffled in his own right at Triple-A in the early going, with a mediocre .225/.324/.433 in his first 120 plate appearances in 2016. Since then, Reed has been on fire in the last month, with a .314 batting average since May 26 that has included at least one hit in his 10 of his last 11 games. The power has not been nearly as prolific as it was in 2015, when Reed socked 34 home runs, but he did enough on the farm to force the issue at first for Houston.
Reed’s early struggles at Triple-A make it fair to wonder whether or not his numbers will translate to fantasy goodness right away. The strikeout rate has never been poor at any level, so even if Reed does struggle he should make enough contact to hit at least .240-.250 and not fall off the map completely. He doesn’t run (Reed has three steals in his entire professional career), so most of his value is wedded to his power potential. Reed will eventually hit for 20-25 home run power at a minimum, but first base is thick enough that he isn’t an automatic add in shallow or standard mixers. It is possible that Reed sits against tough lefties, but for the moment the expectation is that he will play nearly every day.
The paradox with Reed in redraft formats is that it is extremely likely he is already stashed in leagues where you would want to start him right away. Reed is already owned in LABR mixed and the two Tout Wars mixed leagues and you can forget about him in AL-only. In 12-team mixed, Reed is worth the gamble if your team is flailing in power but you will want to be careful not to start him in weeks where Houston is facing a lefty-heavy slate. Reed is currently owned in eight percent of ESPN leagues, but expect that number to shoot up over this weekend. In leagues with priority waivers, he is worth burning the claim in everything but 10-team mixed. In FAAB leagues that use a $100 budget, he is worth at least a $35-40 bid in the unlikely event he is a free agent. —Mike Gianella
Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @CVCrawfordBP