Monday, June 1, 2015

Getting to Know Astros/JetHawks 1B A.J. Reed

I recently had the opportunity to meet and talk with the Astros 2014 second round pick and current Lancaster JetHawks first baseman A.J. Reed. Reed had a slow start to his season, but he hit a robust .327/.417/.664 in May, including eight doubles, 10 home runs and 29 RBI.

I spoke with Lancaster Manager Omar Lopez and Hitting Coach Darryl Robinson about Reed. Robinson worked with Reed, who he described as a "pull/pull guy," on going the other way and staying up the middle and saw that work paying off. Lopez agreed, "He kind of struggled at the beginning of the season a little bit. I think it was a big jump for him, but he proved in college, he proved last year that he has a good approach at the plate and I think he's showing up right now."

And Robinson is not only pleased with Reed's progress, but he is expecting more from him. "I think he's doing well right now, not as well as he's going to do. I think he's even going to get a little better; I really do. There's room for improvement there. There's still more there. And he understands ... we have this conversation every day. He's one of the guys that's working every day and we have this conversation about the previous day every day and what we're trying to accomplish.

"I think his ceiling's pretty high. He listens. He understands. And that's a real big part of it, being able to retain the information that you get and being able to carry it out. I love what he's doing now. Where he started and what he's doing now ... there were a few rough days there. And I just told him, 'You've got to stick with it, stay with what you're doing. I see you getting better every day. You may not see it, but I see it. So just keep pushing.'"

It was my first time meeting Reed and I was immediately struck by his outgoing, effervescent personality. Lopez praised Reed for being able to put any negative thoughts from early in the season behind him and said, "A.J., what I like from him, he's happy every day. He's joking around every single day. He's got a great mindset every single day."

A.J. Reed - May 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen

My first request of Reed was to give me a scouting report on himself regarding his strengths and weaknesses. He said, "I would say strength would be power. As of late, my strike zone discipline has been real good. And I barrel up the ball a lot so I think those are some things that (scouts) would like.

Maybe some things they don't like ... speed. I'm not fast. I won't say I am. I need to take the ball the other way a little more so I think those are two big things to improve on."

Regarding his accomplishments so far during the 2015 season, Reed said, "I think it's been good. I started off really slow and I kind of got down. It's just understanding it's a long season and I've started to pick it up. The last (few weeks) have been pretty good and I feel good at the plate. I think it's been a pretty good season so far. You've just got to keep riding it out and understand that you're going to have ups and downs. But overall I think it's been good."

As a high round draft pick, does Reed have any advice for the players about to be drafted next week? "Something that I had to learn was to not put added pressure on myself. I tried to come out and do too much too early instead of just sticking with what I knew how to do. Last year I did the same thing. I struggled at the beginning and played well at the end. It's just about going out there and not trying to do too much and just playing hard and playing your game," said Reed.

Between the draft, being awarded the Golden Spikes award for the top amateur baseball player in the country (among numerous other awards) and starting his professional career, 2014 was a whirlwind year for Reed. Of the experience, he said, "It all happened so fast. It all started in the fall before that year. I talked with the coaches at school and we wanted to do something great and I wanted to be a great player. Fortunately for us, it lasted all season. It put me in a good position to succeed.

"Going to all the different award ceremonies and everything was really cool, just to get to travel a bit and meet all these new people. I got to meet big leaguers and former big leaguers and hall of famers. It's kind of humbling because you get put in a category with all these great players and you've really got to come down to earth. You're considered in the same class as these guys. It's humbling and I'm grateful for all of it. I'm glad that the people who were with me got to experience that as well, the coaches and my teammates at school. It was just a lot of fun."

On what he thinks of the Astros system, Reed told me, "We have a lot of talent in the system and I think that's good because it makes people compete for spots. You've really got to compete to move up, and it just kind of shows you where you stand. And I think, personally, it was one of the better things for me to come to the Astros. We really work well together. The way I play and the way they want us to play really works well together."

Which pitcher in the Astros system would Reed least like to face? "I've never faced Hader, but I heard he's pretty tough against lefties so I feel like that would be a pretty good challenge."

When asked to name something about himself that most people don't know, Reed responded, "I'm really good at ping pong. My teammates will know that, but other people wouldn't know that. I would consider myself one of the best ping pong players I know."

If he couldn't play baseball, Reed would love to teach. "I always wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a math teacher. I think that would be good, being able to help people out. Obviously, I'd try to coach too, just to stay in the game. That's what I wanted to do when I was in high school and going in to college was be a math teacher."

Based on what I saw and the glowing reports from his hitting coach, I think that Reed can put off that teaching career for a nice long time.

Thank you for your time, A.J., and best of luck as the season continues to unfold.


Other recent interviews:
1B Jon Singleton
LHP Bryan Radziewski

You can find more on virtually every player in the Astros minor league system in the 2015 Houston Farm System Handbook available on Amazon for download to your kindle, iPad, laptop, desktop or smart phone.

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