Projecting Astros Rookie Slugger A.J. Reed

The Astros have gotten painfully little production from the first-base position this season. Spring-training hero Tyler White stopped hitting in April, and Marwin Gonzalez hasn’t exactly stepped up to pick up the slack. Houston’s lack of offense from first is a big reason why they’ve underperformed their preseason expectations. In an effort to fill the void, the Astros have called up top prospect A.J. Reed, who figures to get the lion’s share of starts at first base from here on out.

Reed’s hit everywhere he’s played. In 2014, he lead the SEC in both on-base and slugging his junior season at Kentucky, and he closed out his draft year by slashing .289/.375/.522 between two levels of A-Ball. He enjoyed his biggest breakout last year, when he hit an unquestionably gaudy .337/.428/.604 with 34 homers between High-A and Double-A. His performance has deteriorated a bit this year, but he’s still managed a .266/.345/.509 slash line in Triple-A.

Reed has demonstrated extraordinary power in the minors, which bodes very well for his future at the dish, though this year’s 23% strikeout rate at Triple-A is cause for concern. While 23% isn’t alarmingly high, it’s higher than league average. It hints that Reed might have a tough time making contact against more advanced pitching, and might explain why his performance has tailed off this year.

From a purely offensive standpoint, Reed is one of the best prospects in baseball; however, he gives a good chunk of that value back with his defensive limitations. Reed is strictly a first baseman, which puts him at the very bottom of the defensive spectrum, and KATOH dings him accordingly. He’s also a slow base-runner, which further underscores his lack of athleticism.

Reed has his flaws, but the good mostly outweighs the bad. Heading into the year, KATOH pegged him for 7.1 WAR over his first six seasons, which made him the #26 prospect in baseball. Adding his 2016 numbers to the mix, his projection dips to 4.7 WAR, closer to the middle of top-100 territory. KATOH still respects what Reed did last year, but is concerned about his unflattering performance this year in the PCL.

To put some faces to Reed’s statistical profile, let’s go ahead and generate some statistical comps for the powerful first baseman. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis Distance between Reed’s Double-A and Triple-A numbers since the start of 2015 and every season at those levels since 1990 in which a first baseman recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

A.J. Reed’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Player Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Todd Helton 2.6 33.4
2 Carlos Pena 4.6 9.2
3 Jay Gibbons 5.0 5.5
4 David Ortiz 5.8 14.8
5 Nate Rolison 2.7 0.0
6 Jason Hart 6.6 0.0
7 Jason Botts 2.4 0.8
8 Joey Votto 3.6 33.3
9 Jim Bonnici 2.4 0.0
10 Hee-Seop Choi 5.2 3.3

The Astros have a knack for drafting college players whose performances outstrip their appearance. That’s largely why KATOH loved their farm system headed into the year, and why so many Astros draftees graded out well according to my analysis of college players. Reed, who some might describe as a “bad body player” due to his less-than-chiseled physique, is yet another player who fits that bill.

But there comes a point at which the numbers tell you most of what you need to know about a player, and by succeeding against high-minors pitching, Reed’s about reached that point. There are some justifiable concerns with Reed’s game. His lack of athleticism limits his value on in the field and on the bases, while his strikeout numbers make it less than crystal clear that he’ll hit right away. But his track record of power is hard to ignore, and my math suggests it’ll be enough to carry him in the big leagues.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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6 years ago

.350/.500./.850 seems very doable hitting as a 4-5-6 hitter in a LOADED (& young) Astros line-up –what % chance do you give that?

6 years ago
Reply to  whiptydojoe

You do mean OBP/SLG/OPS, right? Usually the triple slash line refers to AVE/OBP/SLG, but you can’t mean that, right?

free-range turducken
6 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Maybe Reed pulls off his face like Arya Stark did, to reveal that he’s actually Barry Bonds.

6 years ago

One can only hope! He WAS “the” Babe Ruth of the SEC

Brians Sticky Sock
6 years ago

thanks jerk, I haven’t seen that episode yet… (j/k, I have)

6 years ago

Best episode of the series so far, IMO

6 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Sorry, I DID mean OBP and you’re right. My main league is OBP, so I was looking in that direction

OddBall Herrera
6 years ago
Reply to  whiptydojoe

Thank god…you’re still high on those numbers if it’s OBP, but at least not “Back away slowly and find the tranquilizers” nuts 😉