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A.J. Reed: Reinforcements for Playoff Run?

Astros' Top Prospect and Power Hitting First Baseman Brings Hope for Astros

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

This came out of the blue.  Perhaps it's the start of a great Astros career.

This will be unfair to Mr. Reed. But he becomes a glimmer of hope for Astros' fans. All of the sudden the sinking Astros' season is on the verge of becoming a run for the playoffs. And we have this dream that he can become a spark plug for that run. The major leagues are hard, and I shouldn't suggest those kind of expectations for a rookie. But admit it, deep down, you are hoping it happens.  These things are hard to predict. And Reed's immediate performance won't dictate whether he has a successful career.  I'm sure you have heard the story that Willie Mays went 0 for his first 12 at bats and was fearful of being sent back to AAA; and his career turned out okay.  But, you never know.  Carlos Correa made an immediate impact on the team last year.  In the first month and a half of his career, Correa put up a 140 wRC+ and a .377 wOBA. So, we're not trying to set the bar too high, A.J., but all we want you to do is be like Carlos Correa.

Reed entered this season as the Astros' top prospect.  He started off somewhat slowly in AAA, but his offense has gotten into gear over the last couple of weeks.  Reed currently has a .266, .345, .509 slash line and .854 OPS in AAA Fresno this season. That's pretty darned good.  But it's those expectations for Reed that made it seem like he wasn't dominant enough in AAA.  His 121 wRC+ in AAA this season was the lowest of his career.  As a comparison, his wRC+ in high A and AA was 190 and 168. But Reed was starting to go on a tear in AAA, and hopefully the Astros moved him to the majors in time to post his dominant numbers in The Show.

Last year, Reed was the minor league's hitter of the year and posted seasonal hitting stats reminiscent of the Cubs' Kris Bryant.  Between High A and AA in 2015, Reed, at age 22, put up a .340/.432/.612 slash line. The ZIPS projection system liked Reed; the pre-season ZIPS projected a ML line of .261, .338, .456 (wOBA .342) with a 2.6 WAR for Reed.  That's the kind of offensive impact which could make a real difference in the Astros' season.  Undoubtedly, the lower AAA performance at the beginning of 2016 would temper the ZIPS pre-season projection.  (Right off hand I can't find the ZIPS rest-of-season projection for Reed.)  But the fact that, only four months ago, he was projected to perform at a .342 wOBA rate at the ML level is encouraging.  The fangraphs depth chart rest-of-season projection for Reed is less encouraging.  That slash line is a more pedestrian .243, .314, .407 (.721 OPS, .313 wOBA).  The lower projection likely reflects a less favorable outlook by the Steamer projection system, as well as incorporating the 2016 minor league numbers into the projection.

My guess is that Reed will get more or less full time work between 1b and DH. The Astros view Reed as part of the future core of the team, and he will be given a chance to hold onto the starting position.  How it affects the mix of playing time between Gonzalez and Valbuena remains to be seen.  Tony Kemp has looked good enough to be a role player on the team, but he will be sent down to AAA with the advancement of Reed.  This has a lot to do with the balance of RH and LH hitters on the team.  Both Kemp and Reed bat from the left side, and returning Danny Worth to AAA could leave the team exposed to LH pitchers.

What do you expect from A.J. Reed in the major leagues?