The Milwaukee Brewers currently sit at 24-43, not having anything close to the season most envisioned for 2015. Down on the farm, however, several minor leaguers are having strong seasons. While Orlando Arcia and Clint Coulter might be getting the most hype among Brewers’ farmhands, there might not be a player in the system who has improved his stock more than 22 year old Michael Reed.
Drafted in the 5th round out of high school back in 2011, Michael Reed has appeared at all three outfield positions during his minor league career while making the majority of his appearances in right. He has shown a penchant for getting on base during his career, walking in just under 14% of his plate appearances with a .379 career OBP. He is dangerous on the basepaths, as well, stealing 93 bases at a 76% clip. Still, prior to this season Reed was ranked relatively low among Brewers’ prospects (#17 on MLB.com).
2015 has been a different story for Michael Reed, playing at AA level for the Biloxi Shuckers. While he has maintained his strong OBP and stolen base numbers, Reed has added an element to his game that has been mostly absent to this point in his career: power. After never having slugged higher than .400 in a single season (2012 at low-A Wisconsin), the outfielder has clubbed 21 extra base hits in 60 games this season for a robust .485 SLG and a .177 Isolated Power mark. Reed’s .877 OPS and .401 wOBA average both rank in the top 10 of the Southern League, and he is creating runs at a mark 50% greater than league average.
So where did this sudden influx of power come from? A significant change it Reed’s batted ball profile appears to be a large contributing factor. Last season, the speedster hit .255/.396/.378 while hitting nearly 46% of balls on the ground, 34.4% fly balls, and carrying just a 14.9% line drive rate (per MLBFarm). Reed has maintained his fly ball rate for the most part in 2015 (32.9%), but has cut his ground ball rate by nearly 6% and is hitting line drives at a 20.6% clip. This significant uptick in contact quality pushed Reed’s 2015 line to a robust .308/.392/.485 in 237 plate appearances.
Michael Reed spray chart courtesy of MLBFarm.com.
Reed’s home run power has come to the pull side, with all five of his home runs clearing the left field fence. Michael’s solid approach allows him to take advantage of the whole field, however, and a he hits a significantly higher amount of balls to center field (24%) and right field (18.5%) than he does to left (17.1%).
Important people have started taking notice of Michael Reed’s breakout 2015. J.P. Breen of Baseball Prospectus has been in Reed’s corner for a while, while ESPN insider Keith Law recently alluded to having Reed ranked #3 among prospects in the Brewers’ farm system (subscription required for link).
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Should we have concerns about Reed, though? His strikeout rate has jumped up to 22.4% this season, an increase of five percent over 2014. This is, however, only about 1% higher than his career rate, His walk rate has fallen since last season, but it is still well above average and within about a point of his career mark. Reed’s .381 BABIP is well above the normal league average, but Reed has posted a .350 combined BABIP over the past three seasons, and could continue to post high BABIP rates if his ground ball and line drive rates remain consistent. Reed might not always be able to post batting averages over the .300 mark, but he should be able to post consistently above average on base percentages.
So what should we expect of Michael Reed going forward? If he can maintain the slugging profile that he has now, he could become an everyday right fielder at the major league level, where his plus arm and above average speed would play well with his new found power. If not, however, the comp I have most often seen is former-Brewer Nori Aoki-a high OBP, low-power bat with above average defense who could be the fourth outfielder for any team in the bigs.
It’s easy to see why Michael Reed has started gaining some notoriety throughout the baseball community after his stellar start to the 2015 season. If Reed can maintain the progression he has made in his batted ball profile, he could become an everyday caliber player in the corner outfield, with the speed to play in center. With a rebuild on the horizon for the Milwaukee Brewers, Michael Reed is the type of player who could find himself rising quickly through the system and get the opportunity to grab hold of a job at the MLB level.