Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Case For A.J. Reed, The Pitcher

A.J. Reed is a good hitter, a way better hitter than he is a pitcher, that’s why when the Astros drafted him 42nd overall in the 2014 draft they chose to make him a hitter full-time. Reed was a two-way player in college though, acting as both the ace and best hitter for a Kentucky team in the perennially tough Southeastern Conference. So why has he not been given the chance to pitch in the minors?

 As a junior, he was 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 112 innings. For context, here are Reed’s 2014 stats compared to other notable pitchers from the SEC.

2014 ERA
2014 K/BB
2014 WHIP
Drafted (Rd.Ovr)
Highest Level
A.J. Reed (Jr.)
2014 (1.42)
A.J Puk (Fr.)
2016 (1.6)
Tyler Beede (Jr.)
2014 (1.14)
Carson Fulmer (So.)
2015 (1.8)
Christopher Ellis (Jr.)
2014 (3.88)

I'm not going as far as to say Reed would be on the same level as these four players, who are legitimate pitching prospects, but this table does illustrate Reed's ability to get talented hitters out.

During his junior year season in which he won the Golden Spikes award, given to the nation's best collegiate baseball player, Reed was dominant. He sat 91-93 with his fastball, mixed with a 76-78 MPH slurve and a low-80s change-up. Against Kent State, he threw a 107-pitch complete game and never reached a three-ball count. At one point he retired 14 straight batters. It is not unreasonable to assume that he would at least be able to match the stuff he had in college now, and maybe even add a tick or two to his velocity if he were exclusively coming out of the bullpen.

The track record of two-way players in the major leagues is almost non-existent, but that trend is starting to change. This season, there are two players making an attempt. Christian Bethancourt has been a catcher throughout his career, but the Padres are giving him a shot this season both behind the plate and on the mound. Cincinnati's Michael Lorenzen is a good reliever, who hit a pinch-hit home run in the Reds third game of the year. Manager Bryan Price will continue to treat him as a bench bat.

The best chance for a true two-way player success story is Shohei Otani from Japan. Arguably the best hitter and pitcher in the NPB, Otani will demand a huge price tag if and when he comes to America.

I don’t think the Astros would ever want to try Reed as a starter. There are too many pitching prospects in the system deserving of time and resources already. But as deep as Houston’s farm is, the one thing it is clearly lacking are left-handed relievers. Modern bullpen construction all but requires at least one guy to be able to come in, throw four pitches to a fellow southpaw, and hit the showers. Tony Sipp was supposed to be that guy for the Astros, but the last season and change has been anything but encouraging.

Think of the roster implications this could have. You could carry Reed as a bench bat/LOOGY, leaving one more spot open for either another reliever or bench player. Since you would be playing with house money at this point, you could be willing to take a chance on a Rule 5 guy or have a speedster on the bench just for pinch-running. You could carry a third catcher or create a dramatic platoon with two players with extreme splits that otherwise wouldn’t be worth the extra roster spot.

The counter argument to having Reed work as a pitcher is that it would take away from his development as a pitcher, but I don't see how a little early work with the pitching coach before taking batting practice would hurt. Injury concern doesn't seem to be a valid argument because position players pitch in blowouts all the time. Just last night, Reed's Fresno Grizzlies were trounced 21-6 and three of his position player teammates (Tyler White, Reid Brignac, and Andrew Aplin) took the mound.

This project would take a lot of time, and even more luck, but Reed has the underlying talent to make it possible. He could add serious value to a team if he were able to come in and get a few lefties out while still being a dangerous hitter. If he’s willing to throw a few bullpens while in the minors, why not take a shot?