With the 2016 season underway, each team looks to compete immediately with the pickups they made in the offseason. But as we saw around the MLB in the 2015, the midseason callups can have as big of an impact as the players obtained in free agency. This series will detail the 5 prospects in the AL looking to make the biggest impact on their respective teams this season.
For the purposes of this series, we will set a few baseline criteria:
- The prospect cannot have any previous Major League experience prior to the 2016 season.
- The prospect must already be reasonably close to the MLB.
- The prospect must play a position of need for his big-league squad, and this need cannot be due to injury.
Be sure to check out the impact cases for the prospects previously covered:
2. A.J. Reed, HOU, 1B
Fans of the Houston Astros likely expected a better start to the 2016 season after losing the ALDS to the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals in 5 games. As of this writing, after 44 games they are 17-27, good for last place in the AL West, and 9 games behind the first place Seattle Mariners. Their lack of success is in large part due to poor pitching performance, but it can partly be contributed to bad luck as well.
One thing in which the Astros hope for a reversal in luck is their first base situation. While competing in Spring Training with current starter Tyler White, #36 overall prospect A.J. Reed put up an admirable performance and was kept down largely due to service time concerns and waiting for the Super Two deadline to pass.
So far, White has been serviceable in the role, despite a low average and high strikeout rate. In an incongruous fashion, White actually has a background as a patient batter who hits for average and does not strikeout much. He has seen his power increase in the majors, but also his walk rate almost half, and his strikeout rate double, albeit in a small sample of 131 PAs. After hitting for a .362 average in AAA Fresno last year on an absurd .412 BABIP, White has seen this fall to a .241 average on a more normal .273 BABIP. This in conjunction with the decreased walk rate has led to a wOBA of .340 and wRC+ of 116. Both are decent enough numbers (especially for a role player) but the underlying stats behind them do not provide much inspiration.
White’s patience at the plate actually seems to be hurting him. Of 273 major league hitters with at least 100 PAs so far, only 3 hitters (Joe Mauer, Brett Gardner, and Joey Rickard) have swung at less pitches in the strike zone. Each of these 3, however, make contact with pitches in the zone over 90% of the time when they do swing, good for the top tertile. White on the other hand, makes contact only 83.9% of the time, placing him in the bottom tertile. In addition to this, White has hit 21.6% of his flyballs as infield popups, almost double the average.
Essentially, White is being too selective, and this approach is leading to more strikeouts and weaker contact. After a hot start, he has cooled off, and a component of this could be that the opposition realized he isn’t swinging at anything. If White does not make adjustments, he will continue to struggle as opposing pitchers attack the zone against him.
This is not to say that White has not seen any success, as the increased power and good walk rate are obviously beneficial to the team, and once the Super Two concerns fade away and A.J. Reed is called up, he will either take over the role completely or form a strong platoon and/or 1B/DH duo with White.
Reed is best known for his formidable power, which rates second only to Rangers prospect Joey Gallo in the top prospect list. Splitting 622 PAs across the 2015 season between High-A Lancaster and AA Corpus Christi, Reed hit 34 homeruns and slugged .612. So far in 123 PA in 2016 at AAA Fresno, he has maintained this pace and clubbed 6 homeruns. Reed also has very advanced plate discipline, especially for a player with his power profile. He has consistently walked in close to 13% of his plate appearances each year, while striking out at an average 20% rate. This skill helped him triple slash .340/.432/.612 in 2015, with a wOBA around .440 and a wRC+ of 180.
In 2016, these numbers have fallen off a little, as he’s slashed .229/.333/.457, with a still respectable wOBA of .349 and wRC+ of 110. While these are not the numbers of a premier major-league power hitter, it shows that Reed can still be productive when he’s off his game. Despite the lower average, Reed has maintained his discipline, with an average strikeout rate and elevated walk rate. His poor results are likely due to an inordinately low .243 BABIP, suggesting that he may be getting unlucky when the ball does not leave the park. Not only is this number below the average, but Reed also runs a BABIP even a little higher due to his line drive hitting profile. Once this figure rebounds, it is likely that his other stats will recover to reflect his talent.
One attribute of A.J. Reed’s that cannot be undersold is his defensive ability at first base. Reed is a good athlete for someone of his imposing stature (6’4″, 275 lbs), and despite his slower speed, he is nimble enough to be an adequate defender at first. In his minor league career, he has a fielding percentage of .990. While fielding percentage is not the best barometer of defense, there is unfortunately a dearth of defensive statistics for minor league players. At the very least, we can say that Reed does not make many mistakes on the balls that are hit near him, regardless of positioning.
On the other hand, White is a former (poorly fielding) third baseman who has transitioned exclusively to first. He is already tied for fourth in the AL in errors committed as a first baseman, and the advanced fielding stats do not rate him much more favorably. If Reed can shore up the defense at first, pushing White to DH or to a bench role, he will add value to the team not only through his hitting, but through the subtraction of White’s glove while allowing his bat to play.
Walk-Off Hit: A.J. Reed 2016 Impact Outlook
The Astros are looking to turn things around after getting out to a slow start this season. They contended in 2015, and fully expect to continue in 2016. While their problems are mostly with their pitching, there are a few positions in which they could stand to improve. Currently, Houston has received slightly below average production from their first basemen and very below average results from their DHs and pinch hitters. This is largely due to incumbent starter Tyler White’s cooled production, with higher strikeouts, weak contact, and poor defense. While there are certain things about White’s profile that benefit the team, his every day playing time is ultimately having a negative impact.
Once concerns over the Super Two deadline pass and A.J. Reed is called up, his special blend of power and patience will allow the Astros to improve the first base situation by not only adding Reed at first, but possibly shifting White to the DH/PH role, where he can look to improve on the poor results of other lighter-hitting teammates. Reed has seen his stats decrease in AAA, but nothing seems to indicate that he is being overpowered, but rather that he is getting unlucky. When the line drives start to drop in for hits again, expect Reed to heat up and take his advanced approach to the major leagues. Fans of the Astros will have to hope that he can be enough to turn their season around and bring them back into the playoff mixture.
What do you think? Will A.J. Reed’s debut be enough to help the Astros get back to playoff form? Does Tyler White deserve a longer leash at the first base position before Reed is promoted? What other prospects do you think belong on this list, and who do you think the number 1 impact prospect will be? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @SaberBallBlog. Don’t forget to subscribe to SaberBallBlog by clicking the green “Follow” button in the menu, and follow on Twitter for all of the latest updates on the MLB!