(Note from the editor: It is well known that I am a prospect junkie, and when one of the bigger named prospects gets called up to the Big Show for the first time, I like to go back and look at past interviews to see what they were like when they were younger. Fortunately, I caught up with the Houston Astros A.J. Reed, who is set to make his big league debut last July. Here’s a look back at that interview from when I was editor at Grading on the Curve. Enjoy!)
A few weeks back, I did a little write up about one of baseball’s most exciting prospects. Amid one of MiLB’s hottest seasons, A.J. Reed had just come off his fourth California League Player of the Week Award, second consecutive Player of the Month Award and his first promotion to Double-A ball. Well folks, since his promotion, he hasn’t stopped hitting.
My favorite nickname for he 22-year old left handed slugger was coined by FanGraphs, calling him the Babe Ruth of the SEC. It is perfectly fitting for the career he put together at Kentucky, one that saw him take home the 2014 Golden Spikes Award, presented annually to college baseball’s best player.
The big time power prospect slashed .336/.476/.735 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI while going 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA and a 72/29 strikeout to walk ratio. “My last year at Kentucky was unbelievable,” Reed recollected to me on that magical season. “We as a team — not just myself— did great. My favorite part was being able to share it with those guys. It was a big step for me in my career as well. “
He was then selected by the Houston Astros with the first pick in the second round of last year’s draft. Since then, the Astros have abandoned the pitching aspect of Reed’s game and focused on turning him to a full-time first baseman. It doesn’t mean that Reed doesn’t miss pitching, he just understands what’s better for the team right now.
“I’d like to see how I stand in pro ball as a pitcher,” Reed said, “but right now hitting is going alright so I’ll stick to that!”
Through 96 games between High-A and Double-A, Reed is putting up some ridiculous numbers. He is slashing .336/.445/.640 with 27 home runs and 96 RBI. Believe it or not, Reed started the season slowly, going 2-for-20 out of the gate over his first six games. “My hitting coach at Lancaster Darryl Robinson really helped me a lot this year by not giving up on me after a rough first month,” Reed credited his old coach.
More impressive than Reed’s video game power numbers is his ability to draw a walk. Many young power hitters are much more free swingers as they adjust to professional pitching than Reed has been.
Perhaps being a pitcher in college has given him a broader understanding of the strike zone. “I don’t think it was the pitching,” Reed explained. “I think it’s more of my approach looking for a pitch I can do damage with.”
And damage he has done. Seemingly there is nothing that Reed can’t do, We can all see the big numbers, we can all see the accolades, and we can see that he has improved at every level that he has moved up the ladder. But the humble Reed knows he’s not done yet.
“I really want to get better at first base,” Reed said. “I think when I prove I can be a quality defender I’ll be more ready for the big leagues.”
The Houston Astros could use Reed with Chris Carter and Jon Singleton struggling as first base options, but there is no rush just yet. The turn around the Astros have had this season has been one of the most exciting stories of 2015. It has trickled throughout their system: the Fresno Grizzlies — their Triple-A squad — is in first place and the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks were the first half division winners. “It’s very exciting right now,” Reed said of being part of the youth rebellion in Houston. “There’s a lot of talent in the system and good things are going on so its fun to be a part of that.”
So, did Reed set out to emulate Babe Ruth as a youngster? Did he have aspirations of being Houston’s next Jeff Bagwell? “I don’t think I modeled my game after a specific player,” Reed explained about his youth. “I just watched the game to learn and become a better player.”
Well, AJ, whatever you watched has certainly worked. It will be exciting and fun to see how things play out for Reed in 2015. In this crazy Year of the Prospect, should he keep up the hot hitting and sharpen that play at first base, we may just get to see his big league debut.