A.J. Reed is in an interesting position going into the 2017 season, the minor league standout fell flat on his face in his first stint in the big leagues with the Astros. The question now is, can he rebound? If so, is there a spot for him on this stacked roster?
Reed was drafted by the Astros in the 2nd Round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of Kentucky where he was one of the most dominant hitters in the NCAA. In two seasons with the Astros minor league affiliates (four teams) he put up a .315 batting average with 46 home runs. 2015 saw Reed win the following awards in the minors:
- AFL Rising Stars
- Baseball America Minor League All Star
- MiLB Joe Bauman Home Run Award
- MiLB.com Organization All Star
- MiLB.com Staff Choice for Best Offensive Player
- Baseball America High Class A All Star
Reed was ranked as the second best 1st Base prospect in all of baseball (behind Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates) and the fourth best prospect in the Astros minor league system (behind Alex Bregman, Daz Cameron, and Kyle Tucker) by MLB.com
2016 Spring Training was dwindling down and Reed excited Astros fans by batting .311 in 21 games with nine RBIs and three home runs. Even with an impressive spring, Reed was assigned to Triple A affiliate Fresno to begin the 2016 season.
First base had been an offensive hole and merry go round for the Astros since Lance Berkman was traded to the New York Yankees. Jon Singleton proved that he could not handle major league pitching, Chris Carter was the epitome of a poor man's Adam Dunn with his inability to do much outside of hit a home run or strike out, and after an impressive two week run, first baseman Tyler White struggled mightily behind the plate.
Fast forward to late June of 2016 and Reed finally got the call, and like those before him, he followed suit. In just 17 games with the Astros, Reed could only manage to bat .152 and struck out 19 times. He was sent back to Fresno where he once again dominated, batting .436 with 14 RBIs in just 29 at bats. An injury to Luke Gregerson saw Reed get called back up to the big leagues for his second stint with the Astros. He finished his 2016 season with the Astros combining to bat .164 in 141 plate appearances with only eight RBIs and striking out 48 times.
Can Reed Bounce Back?
Of course he can, he only played in 45 games last season and that hardly makes a career. It is impossible to judge a player's career based on one third of one season. For example, in Lance Berkman's rookie season he batted .237 with only four home runs in 34 games, a far cry from what his career would become. But here is an even more recent example of waiting on a player to develop and not giving up on him too soon: JD Martinez.
Martinez played for the Astros between 2011-2013. He started off fairly well batting .274 in his first 52 games in 2011, but he was never able to break .250 after that. In March of 2014 Martinez was released by the Astros after 899 at bats with a .251 batting average, 24 home runs, and 126 RBIs.
Two days after his release, Martinez signed with the Detroit Tigers. In three seasons with the Tigers, Martinez has batted .299/.357/.540 with 84 home runs and 246 RBIs in 1,497 plate appearances. Martinez has also been an All Star and been awarded the Silver Slugger. All this is not to say Reed will follow J.D. Martinez or even Lance Berkman, it is to say that the team should give him his fair shot, do not give up too early, or allow him to refine his skills with another organization.
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The opportunity for Reed to bounce back could not be set up more perfectly. The 2017 World Baseball Classic will be underway shortly and several key Astros will be departing from Spring Training to participate in the tournament. Carlos Beltran, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Nori Aoki, and Bregman will all be getting a majority of their reps in with their home country’s teams. These players not participating in a majority of the Astros Spring Training camp opens the door for Reed to establish himself by getting more plate appearances than he would in a year that did not fall during the WBC.
If Reed does bounce back, is there room for him?
This is a tough question to answer. With the moves this past offseason, Reed will have to show a lot to not only earn back his first base position but to make the Opening Day roster. The offseason acquisitions of Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, and Nori Aoki to go along with George Springer and Jake Marisnick push some players with flexibility elsewhere. With those acquisitions, Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel will seemingly be manning the infield corners for the Astros.
Even as a designated hitter, Reed would have to compete with Beltran, and the combination of Evan Gattis and Brian McCann when the other is not catching on any given day. Coming off the bench is not an option, not only because of how the team values Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez, but a bench role is also not feasible for a young player trying to find his groove.
With an already stacked lineup it looks as if the only way for Reed to see playing time with the Astros is at the expense of an injury. For now, he needs to do what he has done in each of his minor league stints as well as Spring Training which is hit, and hit often.
Reed may never be a solid first basemen in Major League Baseball. He very well may be just another Quadruple A player that absolutely destroys minor league pitching but can never quite figure it out when facing major league pitchers. Finally, he might just need a little more time to develop, let's be fair here; he has only played in 45 games.