Buddy Reed, a University of Florida outfielder, is one of the top college position player prospects eligible for this year’s MLB Draft. Although Reed is an experienced college prospect, he is frequently described in the manner in which we would discuss a prep prospect, where we largely ignore production and become fixated on “tools”. While scouting Reed’s tools is, of course, important, taking a more comprehensive approach to projecting his future production that utilizes data will provide greater context regarding whether his tools will play up.
My colleague Jeff Ellis, in his first Mock Draft, had Reed going 12th overall to the Boston Red Sox. Others have had Reed as high sixth, showing the esteem the scouting community has for Reed’s tools.
First, the tools. Reed’s speed is his best tool, grading out between above-average and elite. His speed, an important part developing future defensive prowess, helps him to project as an above-average defender with a good arm. Reed’s speed and arm are good enough to keep him in center throughout his professional career. In a league where defense as a part of run prevention is becoming increasingly valued, it is clear that his athleticism is at the heart of his draft value.
The questions arise when it comes to his bat. First, the 2016 season will be pivotal in terms of Reed showing that he can make substantial offensive adjustments. Looking at Reed’s freshman and sophomore seasons, there are some spots to consider. He had contact success in 2014, with a strikeout rate of 20.1%. In 2015, Reed struck out 18.2% of his at bats. In the SEC, this sort of strikeout rate decline is a significant positive indicator.
Research by Chris Mitchell, which has provided the basis of the KATOH system, notes the statistics that most strongly correlate to big league success. Mitchell found that the biggest indicators of success for hitters in the low minors are low strikeout rates and high BABIP rates (BABIP stands for batting average in balls in play which removes strikeouts, and only measures a players batting average on balls which he makes contact with). Now I did say low-minors, not college. However, I believe extrapolating these truisms of college baseball provides a useful measuring stick.
That Reed has reduced his strikeout rate is a very positive sign, and that sign is often overlooked by those criticizing his lack of production in other areas like power and batting average. Contact rate, which improves when strikeout rate declines, is incredibly important to Reed’s profile. If Reed is able to run a solid contact rate, it allows his speed tool to play up.
Speed plays up in two ways when paired with solid contact. First, someone with plus speed who puts the ball in play frequently is able to force more hits because he can beat out softly hit ground balls. Second, and more obvious, being on base allows plus speed to be utilized on the bases where Reed can steal or grab an extra base in any number of circumstances of game play.
Now the second important indicator: the aforementioned BABIP. Reed’s BABIP also took a leap forward in 2015, rising to .368. As a proxy for contact quality, this is a positive indicator that Reed is more frequently barreling the baseball, although college sample sizes are limited by nature. Reed clearly made a leap in 2015, which is why his stock is climbing. He both decreased his strikeout rate and seemingly increased contact quality, surely a positive stride.
Despite those positive indicators, Reed still needs to take another substantive step forward this season. The counting statistics and OPS have left many questioning Reed’s production. The positive step forward with making contact and his body type open the door for optimism that he will take that next step.
Reed is 6’4’’ and a lean 185 pounds, which certainly helps his speed. As Reed adds onto his frame, the power can grow with it.
As it stands right now, Reed is a toolsy gamble, but the defense and speed are enough to create a solid floor. His improved contact rate is a huge step in the right direction, but the last question is if the power comes along with it. I’m betting that it does.