Astros Rebound Candidate: AJ Reed
There are a number of players the Astros would love to see have a rebound year in 2017. The Astros need Keuchel to have a great year after a disappointing and apparently more injured-riddled year than we were aware of. Tony Sipp could also help Houston as the other lefty arm aside Keuchel out of the bullpen. But it’s one player that I still have faith in that I think will have a “rebound” year. And that’s AJ Reed.
Stay with me. AJ Reed has received many accolades, from Golden Spikes winner and Baseball America College Player of the Year, to the Unanimous Staff choice for MiLB Offensive Player of the Year. Reed has accomplished so much in his career.
By now it’s well documented that Reed didn’t have a great first taste of the Major Leagues. Reed’s hitting was lukewarm for much of his tenure, finishing his hear hitting .164/.270/.262 with 3 HR, 8 RBI, 18 BB, and 48 K in 122 ABs. I don’t think it’d be a false statement to say 2016 was possibly the first time in his life that Reed has struggled over an extended period of time hitting the baseball.
By calling Reed a “rebound” or “bounce-back” candidate, I’m kinda breaking the rules because in order to bounce back from something, that would require you to have had success in the first place. Reed was a player many thought would be a big time contributor to the Astros in 2016. Unfortunately that didn’t happen but there are reasons to be optimistic.
Even with Reed’s struggles in 2016, we still saw him walk a very good rate (12.8%). He struck out quite a bit (34.0%) but we have seen guys struggle early striking out and turn it around. For comparison, Springer had a 33.0% strikeout rate his rookie season and has brought it down to a career low 23.9% in 2016. All of Reed’s numbers are small samples but he had a .236 BABIP, which is way lower than he has produced at any stop in the minor leagues.
Reed’s batted ball profile wasn’t terrible either. He hit quite a few fly balls but the groundball percentage (49.3%) seemed about normal. He also had a very good Medium% and Hard% hit rate. Only 16% of balls that he put in play were considered soft. Just for comparison, Anthony Rizzo had a 23.2% soft hit rate in his rookie season. Reed also had a 52 Medium% and a 32 Hard%. Springer in 2016 had a 46.9 Medium% and a 33.6 Hard%. None of this will directly correlate to him automatically having success, but there are definitely reasons to be optimistic about him in 2017.
Here is Reed’s plate discipline vs Rizzo’s in their respective rookie seasons:
Here is a link to Reed’s Fangraphs page. If you click on the title above the percentage in will show detail on the definition. Essentially this shows that Reed was a bit more patient swinging at less pitches than Rizzo, but when he did swing, his overall contact percentage was a bit higher. Rizzo did a better job at making contact with pitches outside the zone (O-Contact%) but almost every category is identical. Once again, this doesn’t mean Reed will turn into Rizzo but its another reason to be optimistic about him.
Fans are quick to write off a guy just because they struggled at the start of their careers or during small sample sizes of it. We’ve seen it happen with guys like JD Martinez and even Alex Bregman, to an extent. AJ Reed could be another player that will blossom if given the right opportunities. I don’t believe a hitter like Reed, who, just a season ago hit .340/.432/.612 with 34 HR and 127 RBI between AA/AAA, just completely forgets how to hit. If he’s put in the necessary work this offseason to resurrect his game, I still believe that he can and will shine with the Houston Astros. Unfortunately, now it’s gonna take a lot of hard work for him to even earn his roster spot back.
Before his call-up, there was always a spot for Reed once he was deemed ready. Pegged as the 1B of the future for the Astros, it wasn’t a matter of if he had a spot in Houston but where he’d be penciled into the lineup once he got here. It’s not that simple anymore. In the past the Astros have been able to make room on the roster for new players by cutting off dead weight. However, we’ve reach the point in the rebuild where there is no longer any dead weight left to be cut.
With Yulieski Gurriel and Marwin Gonzalez both providing stability at 1B, as well as Nori Aoki and Jake Marisnick taking up the final spots for the fielders on the 25 Man roster, a roster spot is no longer immediately available to Reed…at least not at the moment.
Heading into 2017, Reed is a player I’m very interested in seeing compete again. I’m very interested to see what adjustments he has made, what his approach he takes when he steps in the box, and what preparation he’s made for what is a make-or-break Spring Training for him. He’s not just fighting for his 1B job back. He’s fighting for a roster spot. This is where we find out who the real AJ Reed is. Major League pitching has bested him so far, but will things be different in 2017?
If Reed performs well in Spring Training, it could force the Astros to find a way to open up a spot in the MLB club. This could allow the Astros to get creative with Gurriel and move him to a place where he can show off his arm, such as LF, while also forcing the Astros to make a difficult decision when locking down the 25 Man Roster come Opening Day. If he is able to work his way back onto the club in 2017, then I expect his production to greatly increase and give the the Astros another weapon to add to their arsenal for 2017.
Contributions from Johnny Armstrong. Be sure to subscribe to receive weekly updates on the Astros minor league system. Also be sure to follow on Twitter, @AstrosFuture, and like my Facebook page, facebook.com/AstrosFuture.
**Photo Credit: Tammy Tucker**