If you sort the Major League leaderboards by runs scored for each team, you’ll find the Toronto Blue Jays at the top of the list. That’s probably no big surprise, given that they feature prodigious sluggers like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson; the Blue Jays have some serious thump in the middle of their order.
But you might be surprised to see that the Oakland A’s are not too terribly far behind the Blue Jays, with their 140 runs scored putting them in second place among all big league clubs. The A’s had a pretty good offense last year, but that was a very different line-up, including a half-season of production from Yoenis Cespedes, plus full years from the aforementioned Donaldson, the also-traded Brandon Moss and Derek Norris, and some good hitting from free agent departee Jed Lowrie. After the A’s second half fade and Wild Card loss to Kansas City, Billy Beane spent the off-season shipping out most of his good hitters, putting together a younger roster that leaned more towards contact hitters than the homers-or-strikeout types that they featured a year ago.
But it isn’t really the new guys leading the offensive charge for the A’s so far this year. Ben Zobrist is on the DL, and wasn’t great even before he had to start sitting out a good chunk of the season. After a hot start, Billy Butler has remembered that he’s Billy Butler and come back down to earth. Ike Davis has one home run, only one fewer than Lawrie. Instead, the line-up has been led by a couple of holdovers: Stephen Vogt and Josh Reddick.
Vogt has been a monster for the A’s, and has been perhaps the best player in baseball so far; his +1.8 WAR leads all big leaguers. Eno Sarris tackled Vogt’s improvement, noting that while he won’t keep this up, there are reasons for optimism, who might be the latest in a long list of guys that just needed a chance to play before finding their first opportunity in Oakland.
But that’s not Reddick’s story at all. He came up through the Red Sox system with plenty of hype, as Baseball America had him among the team’s top five prospects in 2008, 2009, and 2010. On their 2010 Top 100 prospect list, Reddick ranked 75th overall, 10 spots ahead of some guy named Mike Trout. Reddick made it to the big leagues in Boston, and was only traded to Oakland when the Red Sox wanted to acquire All-Star closer Andrew Bailey from the A’s.
Reddick took over as the A’s everyday right fielder immediately after joining the organization, and had a breakout year in 2012, finishing 16th in the MVP voting thanks to a strong performance both on offense (32 home runs) and on defense (+17 UZR and a Gold Glove). But the injury problems that caused the Red Sox to trade Reddick sidelined him for significant parts of the last two seasons, and his power regressed even when he was healthy enough to play. He was still a solid enough player, but mostly contributed with average-ish offense and plus defense, and he appeared to be settling in as as a solid role player rather than any kind of star.
But to start 2015, Reddick has not only looked like the star of his 2012 season, but actually something even better than he’s ever shown before. With the big caveat that it’s only 86 plate appearances, Reddick is flashing the combination of skills that could allow him to develop into an elite right fielder. Those skills? Simultaneous power and contact. Most players in baseball — the ones who aren’t just backup catchers or utility infielders, anyway — can call one of those two things something of a strength. Guys either major in hitting the ball hard or hitting the ball often, but very few can do both at the same time.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.