Buddy Reed and Buying Before a Breakout

Written by: Ray Butler

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When you hear the name Buddy Reed, what do you think of?

For me (and a lot of the prospect community, I presume), it’s last year’s Futures Game, where a mic’d up Reed and his 80-grade charisma became one of the main takeaways in a game that featured eight home runs and a 10-6 victory for the United States.

What you might not know about the Maryland-native is that he’s only been playing baseball for seven years. Seven. A former hockey star, Reed has always been considered the epitome of a ‘raw, toolsy’ prospect in the baseball world, sporting a 6’4, 210 lb. frame with 45-hit, 50-raw power, 70-run, 70-fielding and 60-throw grades on his Fangraphs profile.

It’s predominantly because of the rawness that the 24-year-old has always been flawed. Since being selected in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft following a successful career at the University of Florida, Reed has accumulated a .308 OBP, 26.7 K% and 94 wRC+ in four different minor league stops.

The outfielder finished the 2018 season with 13 home runs and 51 (!) stolen bases in 122 games between the California League (High-A) and the Texas League (Double-A). Intriguing? Of course. The only problem was…. everything else offensively. Reed compiled a .271/.319/.435 slash with a 27.3 K%, 6.7 BB% and 101 wRC+ last season. That’s right: Reed was basically an average offensive player despite jaw-dropping counting stats. 13 HOME RUNS, 51 STOLEN BASES and a 101 wRC+! When you consider the .357 BABIP in 538 plate appearances in 2018, you realize that, if anything, Reed was lucky to finish with the slash numbers he did.

He’s never made a prospect list of mine, and at face value, he shouldn’t be a legitimate candidate for the next edition either. The first 33 games of 2019 have featured a paltry .205/.282/.410 slash as a 24-year-old in Double-A. An 84 wRC+ despite being slightly older than his average competition in the Texas League. Those numbers often describe a prospect afterthought, especially with most statistical categories beginning to normalize.

Yet, a look under the hood suggests Reed is on the verge of a breakout that could make him a hot commodity throughout the prospect community before the end of the regular season.

The most promising sign of better days ahead doesn’t take too much sleuthing to discover: Reed has had horrific batted ball luck this season. Check out his quality of contact from last season (h/t @RotoWire).

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And this season.

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And the elevation distribution (h/t Fangraphs).

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A few things to unpack, right? The Oppo% is way up from last season to this season. He’s also elevating the ball slightly more. The HR/FB has increased drastically, which is probably because his Hard% has jumped from 20.0% last season (below average) to 31.3% in 2019 (above average). I certainly can’t spot anything in the batted ball profile to predict this eye-opener: 2016 BABIP? .338. 2017 BABIP? .315. 2018 BABIP? .357. 2019 BABIP? .224. TWO TWENTY FOUR! To this point of the season, Reed’s slash numbers have been hindered drastically by misfortune, especially when you consider the 70-grade speed and the fact his quality of contact has skyrocketed from last season to this season.

Reed’s BABIP positively regressing isn’t a matter of ‘if’, it’s a matter of ‘when.’ And ‘when’ it normalizes to a point that’s indicative of a player with the 24-year-old’s batted ball profile (it’s risen from .188 a week ago to .224 now), the slash numbers should begin to resemble those of a player who, according to this article recently published on MiLB.com, is finally feeling comfortable with a swing that’s been altered many times throughout his brief career.

Reed’s plate approach is aggressive, self-admittedly. However, a walk rate that hovers around the 7.0% mark and a strikeout rate that hangs loose at 26.0% (his approximate, current rates this season) throughout his career is not a death sentence. Why? Because the raw power *might* just be 55, which would mean Reed will be capable of posting 20-25 home run seasons someday at the big league level. With continued experience and offensive refinement (which he’ll receive, since the defensive skills are absolutely superb), there’s a non-zero chance that Reed eventually becomes a 20 home run, 30 stolen base big league outfielder with a slash that looks something like .270/.320/.460 during his prime. That’s basically 2018 Starling Marte with a higher strikeout rate. Not a superstar, but a really solid player both in real life and in the fantasy world. That’s a gigantic ask for a 24-year-old prospect with a career 94 wRC+ in the minor leagues, but things are trending in the correct direction regardless of what the surface stats currently say.

Distributed to the 538 plate appearances he accrued a season ago, Reed is currently on pace to finish his current campaign (which likely finishes in Triple-A) with 29 home runs and 24 stolen bases. With positive regression on its way to aide the slash numbers, the outfielder’s stock is a solid bet to ascend throughout the summer.

In 90 percent of keeper or dynasty leagues, Reed is currently unrostered and available for the hefty price of $0.00. If one of your league mates already rosters Reed, point out the fact he’s already 24-years-old, is only in Double-A and has been below-average (throw that current .205 AVG and 84 wRC+ in their face) so far this season. You’ll probably end up paying pennies on the dollar for a prospect who, with a little bit of batted ball luck between now and then, could tempt my top-200 prospect list this midseason.

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Featured image courtesy of photographer John Moore and the Amarillo Sod Poodles

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