If you did not acquire A.J. Reed before the hype train started to roll last season, you’re shit outta luck. After being largely ignored by the fantasy community in 2014-15, Reed is a highly sought after commodity in 2016. He was the first player taken in my fantasy league’s prospect draft this year. While it might be too late to get Reed, it is not too late to go search for the next A.J. Reed.
Reed was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. He was a bat-first prospect who raked in college, and most importantly, raked right from the get-go in professional ball. Splitting time between Low-A and Single-A in 2014, Reed triple-slashed, .289/.375/.522, and hit 12 home runs in 68 games. That is the blueprint we are looking for. We want bat-first prospects who were not first-round picks, but exceeded expectations once reaching pro ball. There are three names who fit this criteria, and each could be had for almost nothing in most leagues.
Willie Calhoun LAD, 2B/OF – Calhoun was drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 draft. Playing for Yavapai Junior College last season, he triple-slashed a ridiculous, .432/.520/.952, and hit 31 home runs in 63 games. Considering the weaker talent in Junior College, it was fair to wonder how his production would translate against tougher competition. We don’t have to wonder anymore. Calhoun triple slashed, .316/.390/.519, and hit 11 homers across three levels of the minors. He actually got better as he rocketed through Los Angeles’ system, putting up a .943 OPS in High-A. He struck out only 38 times, and walked 35 times in 73 total games. He is currently a second baseman, but is extremely raw there. He will likely end up in the outfield. Overall, Calhoun has shown elite contact skills, to go along with his elite power. Target in all leagues, before it is too late.
Harrison Bader STL, OF – Bader was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft. Playing for the University of Florida, a big time Divison 1 program, he triple-slashed, .297/.393/.566, and hit 17 homers in 67 games. There were questions about whether his power would translate to wood bats. There aren’t questions anymore. Doing almost all of his damage in Single-A, Bader triple-slashed, .311/.368/.523, with 11 homers, and 17 steals in 61 games. St. Louis has recently drafted prospects who display plus bat speed and exit velocity, and Bader is no exception. He has good contact skills, above average power, and opportunistic speed. This is a potential 5-category producer down the line.
Austin Byler 1B, ARI – Byler is the player who most resembles A.J. Reed, and is also the most risky. He is a slow-footed first baseman, with lots of strikeouts, walks, and power. Byler was drafted in the 11th round of the 2015 draft. Playing for the University of Nevada-Reno, he triple-slashed, .328/.507/.652, and hit 14 homers in 56 games. Then, as a 22-year-old in rookie ball, he launched 15 homers in 66 games, putting up a 67/50 strikeout to walk ratio. Much like the questions Reed faced in 2014, Byler will need to prove he can consistently tap into his power in the upper levels of the minors. While Byler is the one most like Reed, he is also the one I am most cautious on, as he has not advanced above rookie ball. The power is undeniable, though, and he is worth a look in deeper leagues.
By Michael Halpern