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June 26, 2003

Prospecting

Jeremy Reed

by David Cameron

David Cameron kicks off his weekly look at the minor leagues with a player profile of White Sox prospect Jeremy Reed.

Odds are, if you are reading Baseball Prospectus, you have probably heard of Kevin Youkilis. The portly Boston Red Sox minor league third baseman has made a name for himself with a remarkable penchant for drawing the base on balls. His gift of patience even drew him the nickname "Euclis; The Greek God of Walks," popularized in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Over the past year, Youkilis has become the poster boy prospect for performance analysts who are unconcerned with athletic abilities or traditional "tools scouting." He has continued his walking ways this year, drawing the free pass 55 times in 210 at-bats while only striking out on 31 occasions.

However, if someone mentioned the name Jeremy Reed, the list of people lining up to extol his virtues would likely be much shorter. While Reed is not quite prolific enough to be enshrined into mythology, his walk-to-strikeout ratio this year isn't far from epic. In 222 at-bats for Winston-Salem (Carolina League, advanced A-ball), Reed drew 41 walks and struck out just 17 times. That, along with his .343 batting average, earned him a promotion to Double-A Birmingham last week. In 25 at-bats since moving up, he is hitting .360/.407/.600 with a pair of walks and strikeouts.

So who is this guy, and why aren't people writing about him in books?

Reed made his name by being the star of Team USA in the summer of 2001, hitting .366 with wood and earning praise for his pure left-handed swing. He returned to Long Beach State for his junior season with projections of being a first-round pick in the summer of 2002. However, a relatively tough year with aluminum (he hit just .339) pushed his stock down as scouts began to question his ability to hit for power against quality pitching.

Reed ended up as the White Sox second-round pick in 2002, 59th overall and the sixth outfielder selected. Oakland's Nick Swisher was the only college outfielder selected ahead of him. He signed for $650,000, or just a bit less than one-third of the amount Swisher got for going 40 picks earlier. When Reed was signed, scouting director Doug Laumann pointed to his value as a quality center fielder and potential leadoff hitter.

Reed signed quickly enough to make his pro debut in low-A Kannapolis of the South Atlantic League. Hitting .319/.377/.448, his performance was not overwhelming, but considering a majority of college players head to a short-season league for their first year, he more than held his own. Interestingly enough, Reed drew just 11 walks in his 210 at-bats, but inflated his on-base percentage by getting hit another 11 times. He actually showed more power than expected, collecting 19 extra base hits (28 percent of his total hits).

Armed with his Long Beach State profile listing him at 6'0" and 160 pounds, his college statistics (strong in batting average and stolen bases), and the White Sox praise for his defense and leadoff abilities, I developed a mental image of Reed that resembled Eric Owens or Aaron Rowand. I was surprised when I first saw Reed last year in Kannapolis, as he was not physically similar to either player, appearing taller, and closer to his new listed weight (193 pounds).

Reed focused on hitting the ball the other way, and did not pull a pitch in four trips to the plate. He possesses just average range in center field, and he was not nearly as fast as I had imagined. He clocked 4.3-4.4 home-first from the left side, which is about average for a major league player. Overall, my first impression of Jeremy Reed was a pretty underwhelming experience.

I got a chance to see him several times this spring after he was assigned to Winston-Salem and was pleasantly surprised with the changes he made to his game. He now stands more upright, resembling Paul O'Neill or John Olerud minus a few inches of height. He was pulling the inside pitch with authority, and his plate coverage is as good as either of the two aforementioned major leaguers. He can hit any pitch within the strike zone, and he simply refuses to swing at pitches off the plate. His approach is impeccable, and he is one of those guys who are just impossible to pitch to any one specific area.

Reed's power is developing (34 percent of his hits this year have been extra-base knocks), but he still projects as more of a gap-to-gap hitter than a pure slugger. The historical precedent gives players with his ability to drive the ball consistently a chance to turn his doubles into home runs though Watching him, I would not expect him to become a middle-of-the-order hitter, but the numbers suggest that it's possible.

On the basepaths, Reed uses intelligence rather than pure speed to rack up his stolen bases. He appears quicker than he was last season (timed at 4.1 home-first earlier this spring), but his instincts and ability to read the pitcher are what give him the edge. He's a very sound baserunner and he is wisely aggressive. You will not see him running into outs, but he is able to turn most singles into a two-base advancement.

His average speed is evident in the outfield, where he shows sub-par range for a center fielder. The White Sox have recognized this and moved him to right field, which is likely where he'll end up in the major leagues. He plays center field once a week in case the need arises. The Chicago official I spoke to compared him to Mark Kotsay defensively, insinuating that he could play center field in a pinch, but will play right field on a team that cares about defense. His arm will work in right field, but it won't be an asset.

Overall, the physical package is pretty average. He does not do anything poorly, but neither is there an outstanding ability that makes you say "wow." On the traditional 20-80 scouting scale (with 50 being average), he grades out as a 55. While that makes him just an average tools player, he's made the whole greater than the sum of his parts. The same Sox official raved about his "plus-plus makeup," which is scouting lingo for a really smart guy. Reed has a great work ethic and maximized every opportunity he has been given.

Despite his positive traits, Reed has managed to be ignored by both the scouting and statistical community to date. Meanwhile, players like Youkilis and Jeremy Brown are getting attention for the organizations they are affiliated with and the people who write about them. Reed may not have the credentials that come with conquering Double-A yet, but he just turned 22 this month. Compared to the usual performance prospects, Reed is just a pup. The Sox have no plans to push him beyond Double-A this year, but the team could give him a shot at a spot with the big league club next season.

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