Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” So, is the conundrum of Astros first baseman AJ Reed, the power-hitting former second round pick by the organization in 2013.
While much of the current collection of Astros MiLB followers (correctly) heap praise on the Kyle Tucker’s, Yordan Alvarez’s, and Seth Beer’s in the system, they simultaneously seem to have moved on from one of the most productive hitters in all of the minor leagues over the last few years.
Consider these statistics and MiLB accomplishments from the big Kentuckian:
- Career .288 hitter in the minors with 123 homers and 443 RBI to go along with a .926 OPS.
- The only two time winner of the Bauman Award, given to the player that leads all of the minor leagues in home runs (2015, 2017).
- Was the 2015 MiLB.com Offensive Player of the Year after leading all of the minors in RBI (127), total bases (320), and all full-season players in slugging percentage (.612) and OPS (1.044). He also scored 113 runs, hit 34 homers, drew 86 walks, hit 30 doubles, and batted .340 across two levels.
- Named the 2018 MVP for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies after hitting 28 homers and leading Triple-A with 108 RBI.
- In 523 games and 1,971 at-bats, Reed has a career slugging percentage of .547 to go along with a career OBP of .378.
So, what to do with the 6’4”, 230lb, power hitter? In a normal world, a player with his combination of power and hitting ability, and the credentials to back it up, would be considered an important part of an organization’s future. So, why is AJ Reed the Russia of the Astros organization? Let’s take a closer look.
Reed, for all of his minor league accomplishments, has had little success at the big league level. In 131 career at-bats with the Astros, Reed has an abysmal slash line of .153/.255/.244, with a staggering 50 strikeouts. In his defense, consistent playing time and opportunities have been lacking.
There is, of course, the eye test, and with visual evidence we can surmise that Reed’s bat looks slow, he’s unable to handle big-league fastballs, and is lost when down in the count and resorting to guessing what is being thrown at him.
So, what do you call a power hitting left-handed bat with little to no idea at the plate?
Let’s be fair here. As mentioned above, Reed hasn’t been given the consistent playing needed for any young hitter to adapt to the superior MLB stuff that pitchers at this level possess. So, there remains a mystery as to what Reed actually may or may not be able to accomplish should he get, say, 300-400 at-bats in Houston.
Clearly, the MiLB track record is there. Reed’s natural raw power allows for the lefty to maintain a consistent swing path and allows him to concentrate on just barreling up the baseball and to let his strength do the rest. And, despite the alarming strike out rate, he does have a good idea of the zone and will draw his share of walks. To boot, Reed has improved defensively and the once college pitcher has an excellent arm for the first base position.
Power hitters typically have the biggest adjustments to make as they jump to the big leagues. The aforementioned Chris Davis—-before becoming the worst hitter in recent memory—-needed the at-bats at the big league level before blossoming into one of the most feared hitters in baseball. The question for Reed, as well as the Astros front office, is can he be afforded the time to develop on a team that is in championship mode with little room to allow a project to develop? And, lastly, do we need to cut ties too soon on potentially a left handed version of JD Martinez?
And here we are, left with the decision of just what to do with the big guy. Reed is on the Astros 40-man roster, which means, barring an outright release, he will be able to continue his journey with the Astros organization. But where, exactly, would Reed best be able to stake his claim to the active 25-man roster?
Tyler White, JD Davis, and the incumbent Yuli Gurriel, all appear to have the favor of the Astros organization over Reed. Not to mention, Alvarez and Beer seemingly poised to supplant Reed as an option as well. Also, with news that the Astros are serious players for Nelson Cruz to fill the DH spot, Reed is left with “hoping” for injuries or trades in order to leapfrog himself into consideration as a legitimate big leaguer.
Let’s look at Reed, as the enigma in the system and what Luhnow and company must be thinking in regards to the slugger.
Could Reed be part of a package in a trade scenario? Probably not, unfortunately. While Reed has the MiLB track record, other teams also realize that Reed has serious question marks and that the Astros have little leverage in offering Reed as a prospect in a trade.
Could Reed be a legitimate option for the Astros to fill the DH spot in 2019? Maybe. But, again, he would need many things to fall into place for that to happen. Certainly he could be called up in a pinch, but the reality remains that if the club really had confidence in him, he would have been up several times in 2018.
Could Reed one day haunt Luhnow in the same way JD Martinez does today? A resounding affirmative to this one. Reed’s raw power is hard to come by, and with a minor league history of being able to hit for power and average, Reed has the untapped potential to carry that success to the highest level. It just may come in a different uniform and given an extended look by a rebuilding team.
Simply put, I’m not sure anyone following Reed’s career path can say what he is, who he is, or what he will be. We just don’t know what we don’t know in regards to Reed.
Meanwhile, in 2019, he’ll likely spend the majority of his time in Round Rock, hit around .275, hit close to 30 home runs, drive in over 100 runs, and have nowhere to advance to.