Touted as the first baseman of the future, A.J. Reed’s expectations by the Houston Astros fan base are astronomical.
A.J. Reed‘s 2015 campaign solidified himself not only as a top prospect in the Astros system but one of the top first base prospects in all of baseball. In 2016, Reed has come down to earth a little bit, and flaws in his bat are starting to show. The first base job is seemingly still up for grabs on the major league club, with the underwhelming performance of rookie Tyler White and limiting utility man Marwin Gonzalez to the starting first baseman job, Reed is a hot streak away from making the club for good.
The potential for the second ranked prospect in the Astros system is limitless. In 2015, Reed came in for his first full season in the organization after being drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft. To say he crushed the ball would be an understatement. In his 135 games split between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi, Reed hit 34 home runs and drove in 127 RBIs with an average and OPS of .340 and 1.044 respectively.
Reed locked up the starting first base job at Triple-A Fresno with an impressive Spring Training performance. However, in his first 37 games in 2016, Reed has struggled a bit. Reed has a .255 batting average with six home runs, 24 RBIs, and a .819 OPS.
These numbers are a setback for Reed after his award winning 2015 campaign. It does show some flaws in his bat as he moves up in the Astros organization.
One of his major flaws in 2016 is his ability to hit left-handed pitching. In 33 at bats, Reed only has a .121 average with 12 strikeouts and a .499 OPS. That is compared with a .298 average against right-handed pitching and a .922; closer to the kind of numbers he put up last season. The Grizzlies have seen this in Reed’s bat giving him some days off against left-handed pitching, playing 37 of Fresno’s 50 games in 2016.
At the major league level, a platoon situation with the switch-hitting Gonzalez or right-handed hitting White should not be out of the question early in his career. However, with another left-handed first baseman on the Grizzlies struggling against left-handers in Jonathan Singleton, this should be the time that Reed is learning to hit lefties.
If he learns how to be an acceptable option against left-handed pitching, that would be what shifts Reed from a good first baseman to a potential perennial All-Star.
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Another one of the flaws that Reed needs to be aware of is his performance with a runner in scoring position. In 36 at bats, Reed is only hitting .194 with a .707 OPS. He also only has three extra-base hits, including two home runs, and eight strikeouts.
To give Reed credit, his lack of at bats is due to his batting position. Batting third in an underwhelming offensive lineup, Reed is not getting as many opportunities to drive in runs as he had batting fourth for the 2015 Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks. However, I see Reed batting fourth or fifth in a future Astros lineup behind complete players such as Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Alex Bregman. Reed will have ample opportunities to drive in runs at the major league level. If he does that for the Grizzlies, not only will that prove successful for a struggling offensive team, but it will show that Reed is ready for the Show.
No ballplayer is perfect. Reed has shown that in 2016. No question is he going to be at the major league level sooner rather than later. If he refines some parts of his offensive game, he will be better suited at the major league level and become that offensive force that the Astros expect him to be.
**Statistics provided by Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference & MiLB.com**