PT TOMORROW: AL Central—Reed-ing the tea leaves

Chicago White Sox

BHQ’s Rick Green covered the news that the White Sox would place A.J. Reed (1B, CHW) on the active roster rather than optioning him to AAA-Charlotte after grabbing him off waivers from HOU. For now, the left-handed Reed will likely platoon with Jose Rondon (INF/OF, CHW) at DH, effectively replacing the departed Yonder Alonso (1B, COL) and the demoted Daniel Palka (DH, CHW).

Reed should get a window to show the team what they have in the former Top 15 prospect. In addition, with all the trade talk swirling around Jose Abreu (1B, CHW)—mostly from scribes, as GM Rick Hahn has on several occasions shot down the idea of moving the much-beloved Cuban—Reed could possibly have another avenue for playing time open up at 1B. Given regular at-bats, what could we expect from Reed?

Fantasy GMs have been waiting for big things from Reed since 2015, when he mashed 34 HR between Single- and Double-A. In 2016, he hit another 15 HR in about half an MiLB season while playing 45 disappointing games with HOU (.164/.270/.262). In 2017 and 2018, both at Triple-A, Reed hit 34 and 28 HR. Between those two seasons, the Astros rewarded him with a grand total of 9 MLB PA. This season, Reed managed another 12 HR with AAA-Round Rock in 56 G before his release.

While the power is still there (.245 ISO in ’19), Reed’s wRC+ at Triple-A has been on a three-year slide: 142, 124, 117, 90. What does ten percent below PCL average look like right now? His 2019 MiLB slash line stands at .224/.329/.469. Reed is still walking (12% bb%), and his .270 BABIP could be a bit friendlier. Still, the downward trend while repeating a level four years running is discouraging, no doubt. Is there a silver lining?

The 2019 Baseball Forecaster offers a ray of hope. After citing his contact issues and trouble vs LHP, Reed’s capsule reads: “Even with warts, a $1 post-hype speculation worth taking... UP: 30 HR.” That upside is still there—the man has hit 135 HR in 579 G in the minors, after all. Still only 26, perhaps Reed can find success as a South Side version of Kyle Schwarber (OF, CHC) if the White Sox manage his platoon splits and give him regular at-bats.

 

Detroit Tigers

With their focus firmly on the future, the Tigers could let some of their younger players acclimate to the speed of the major league game during the second half of the season. Willi Castro (SS, DET) isn’t one of the team’s top-caliber prospects, but the 22-year-old has put together a fine season at AAA-Toledo, leaving him just a step away from a call-up.

Castro broke out in 2017 at High-A Lynchburg while playing in the Indians organization, slashing .290/.337/.424 with 11 HR and 19 SB in 469 AB; that line pegged his production at 15% above league average (115 wRC+). In 2018, Castro came to the Tigers in the Leonys Martin trade. He held his own in Double-A: .264/.315/.392 with 9 HR and 18 SB in 23 attempts, once again displaying a decent power-speed tool set.

This season in Triple-A, Castro has taken another step up offensively: .295/.381/.442 with 55 R, 5 HR, 39 RBI, 13 SB. He’s greatly improved his walk rate (9.6% bb% vs 6.2%) while maintaining his level of production comfortably above league-average (113 wRC+).

Where would Castro play for the big club? Jordy Mercer (SS, CHW) is the current resident at short. The 32-year-old Mercer won’t block Castro with his bat; however, reports are that Castro needs more reps defensively to improve his consistency. Those same reports have also noted his recent progress with the glove, so perhaps it won’t be too long before the Tigers give this potential double-digit power-speed threat a chance to stick.

 

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have plenty of depth at the middle infield positions; so much so that they play their putative second baseman, Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, KC), in right field. Nicky Lopez (2B, KC) has taken over at 2B, and after his blazing start in Triple-A earlier this season, he probably has a long leash: a .353/.457/.500 slash line with 14.5% BB% and 3.6% K% over 116 AB will do that.

Meanwhile, down on the farm, Erick Mejia (INF/OF, KC) is having a solid season while waiting for an opportunity to move up. The 24-year-old utility player doesn’t have much of a pedigree but he’s followed up a decent 2018 at Double-A (5 HR, 34 SB, 7.1 BB%, .685 OPS in 540 AB) with modest improvements at Triple-A this season (3 HR, 11 SB, 9.6% BB%, .747 OPS in 323 AB).

They’re not exactly hurting for speed in KC, so the prospect of adding another potential 30-steal player may not move the needle as much for the Royals as for some other clubs. But Mejia also offers good defensively versatility, having played 2B (23 G), 3B (18 G), and CF (20 G) this season. The current bench options—Billy Hamilton (OF, KC) and Lucas Duda (1B, KC)—are one-trick ponies who only cover one spot apiece. The team could do worse than to add Mejia and plug him to spell several of their regulars.

 

Minnesota Twins

What do you give the team that has everything? Like most successful squads, the Twins have good depth: two first-string catchers, two closers, and plenty of flexibility on defense allowing them to move players around as needed. They also have a number of competent young players in the minors to call upon, including Zander Wiel (1B/OF, MIN).

The 26-year-old Wiel has produced solid numbers during his ascent through the Twins system: .267/.345/.453 with 58 HR in 466 G. This year playing for AAA-Rochester, he’s on pace to set a new season high mark in home runs with 15 in 300 AB. Overall, he’s slashing .267/.345/.510 with a .353 wOBA and 107 wRC+. His plate discipline has regressed, as he’s both walking less (7.8%) and striking out more (30.3%) than in previous seasons; he’s also enjoying a tail wind provided by a .349 BABIP.

Is he selling out for more power? You betcha: his GB/FB has been cut almost in half since last season (0.60 vs 1.11) and he’s pulling the ball more (52.2% vs 44.6%). In his most successful minor league seasons, Wiel showed decent pop while controlling the strike zone well. Perhaps the livelier ball this year is encouraging him to swing for the fences and out of his shoes.

Wiel has played mostly 1B in 2019, but he logged 27 G in LF last year. If the Twins have a need for another right-handed bat with some pop, we’ll see if Zander Wiel can seal the deal.

 

Cleveland Indians

Greg Allen (OF, CLE) was recalled from AAA-Columbus on July 6 and had a huge game just before the All-Star break, going 4-for-6 with a home run, three runs scored, and two runs batted in. He was on some radars as a potential source of steals and decent batting average during the offseason, but so far the speedster has disappointed in limited action. Could Allen play his way into a more prominent role?

Allen’s MiLB track record suggests that he has the tools to succeed: .276/.377/.383, 23 HR, 165 SB, 47 CS, and a 119 wRC+ in 480 G covering 1842 AB. His plate discipline has been especially good: 9.9% BB%, 13.9% K%, good for a 0.71 K/BB. He’s stolen as many as 46 bases in a minor league season, and just last year managed 33 SB between Triple-A and the majors.

Those skills have yet to transfer over completely to the majors. In 373 AB covering parts of three seasons, Allen is slashing .244/.298/.357 with 55 R, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 22 SB, 5% bb%, 77% ct%. Looking on the bright side: he’s essentially been on a 30 SB pace with CLE; his quality of contact last year (105 HctX) was rather encouraging; and his MLB career 200 RSPD is through the roof. Those are points solidly in his favor.

This season has been especially difficult for Allen: .205/.263/.411, 4% bb%, 74% ct%, 78 HctX, .222 xBA. One problem is that he’s hitting the ball in the air too much (44%/15%/42% GB%/LD%/FB%). Research shows that hitters have relatively little control over their LD%, though. Surely enough, Allen’s 25% h% suggests that he’s had some tough luck on balls in play.

So what should we make of Allen? He’s displayed solidly rosterable skills in the minors. The 26-year-old could challenge Tyler Naquin (OF, CLE) and Oscar Mercado (OF, CLE) for playing time, although the CLE OF situation isn’t the dumpster fire it was a couple months ago. Naquin has been dealing with a back issue recently; if that injury lingers, expect Allen to continue getting looks in his stead.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.