Starring roles as batter, pitcher give Kentucky's Reed unique perspective

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMarch 1, 2014 

  • A.J. Reed

    Class: Junior

    Hometown: Terre Haute, Ind.

    High school: Terre Haute South

    Height, weight: 6-4, 240

    Positions: Pitcher, first base

    Bats, throws: Left-handed

Less is more.

At least, that's how the young baseball season is looking so far for University of Kentucky standout A.J. Reed.

One of the premier two-way players in the country as a left-handed pitcher and power-hitting first baseman, Reed has dropped every bit of 20 pounds since last season.

Now at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he is reigning national player or hitter of the week according to four organizations, as well as Southeastern Conference Player of the Week.

Reed was on the mound for a season-opening victory over No. 1-rated Virginia and is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA over his first three starts.

He said he'd grade his pitching thus far no higher than a "B" because his stuff — fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter — has not been as sharp as he'd like.

But it is his hitting that has been getting the most attention.

Last weekend, in a three-game tournament at Old Dominion, Reed became the first player in UK history to slug five homers over three games. In a Friday win, while also working seven innings on the mound, he belted two homers in the same inning, including a grand slam.

A first-team pre-season All-American, Reed is hitting .429 (18-for-42) with 15 runs, four doubles, seven homers and 20 RBI.

In his career, Reed has hit .303 (138-for-456) with 21 doubles, two triples, 24 homers and 115 RBI, while owning a 10-11 record and a 3.16 ERA in 154 innings on the mound.

"It's really sticking to our approach and trying to drive the ball to the opposite-field gap, and put a good swing on the pitch," Reed said of his offensive production. "So far, that's been working out."

The thing is, Reed doesn't go to the plate thinking about home runs.

"Maybe last year I was," he said. "Last year, I kind of had a bad approach to the plate just because we had some offensive struggles and I felt like I had to hit a home run all the time.

"But this year we've got a lot better team, I think, offensively. And we've got a better approach and a better feel about it, so I don't feel like I have to hit home runs all the time. I can just try to drive the ball the other way."

As a sophomore, Reed hit .280, ranking fourth in the SEC in homers (13) and RBI (52) while earning all-conference honors as the designated hitter.

On the mound, he went 2-8 with a 4.04 ERA, but tired down the stretch and gave up 14 runs over his last two starts.

The 2011 Indiana High School Player of the Year out of Terre Haute South, Reed is leaner and more efficient than he was a year ago.

"I think it's been easier for him to move," Wildcats Coach Gary Henderson said. "If you look at repeating your delivery 100 times with 20 less pounds, it makes it a little bit easier. I think it's probably helped offensively just in that he's lighter. He's lighter and stronger. That's a good combination."

Reed said he has better foot speed, improved bat speed and is throwing harder.

And carrying 20 less pounds should help lessen the wear and tear on his body.

"I suspect that he'll keep building off his previous (pitching) performances," Henderson said. "I think he'll keep getting better."

While nobody predicted the type of start he's had, Reed has been on the national radar for some time.

Out of high school, the New York Mets made him a 25th-round draft pick in 2011.

As a UK freshman, he hit .300 with four homers and 43 RBI, going 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA on the mound. He was UK's first consensus first-team Freshman All-America selection, and a semifinalist for the College Baseball Hall of Fame's Two-Way Player of the Year.

In UK's 21-inning NCAA regional loss to Kent State, Reed played the first 12 innings as DH and first baseman, then came on to pitch nine innings.

"You just go out there every inning trying to give your team a chance to win," he said. "At the same time, you're thinking 'is this game ever going to end?' But it was a lot of fun and it was really cool to experience that."

Reed entered 2014 as a Baseball America, Louisville Slugger and Perfect Game pre-season All-American. There were more accolades, but you get the point.

"It's an honor to get those awards, and you work hard for that kind of stuff," Reed said. "But you don't take it for granted and keep working hard, and hopefully you can keep it up."

One other thing in Reed's favor is his aptitude.

Asked who would win in a dream matchup of A.J. Reed the hitter versus A.J. Reed the pitcher, he said: "I would say probably the pitcher. I know how to get myself out."

The two-way player understands how difficult it is to hit. He understands that he doesn't have to throw great pitches every time. Rather, he needs to throw good, solid pitches on a consistent basis.

When Henderson has something to say, Reed is all ears.

"He's not a good listener, he's a great listener," Henderson said. "And he is able to make very quick, specific adjustments, which is one of the things that leads you to think he's going to play for a long time."

But where will Reed play as a pro?

Too early to tell, Henderson said.

"It's not really about what I want to play more. I like both of them," Reed said. "It's just a matter of whatever's going to let me play. If I need to pitch, then I'll go pitch. If I need to hit, I'll go hit. I'm just going to go out there and do my best either way and get the job done as best as I can. ... A lot of scouts said they like me better as a hitter. But I think it just depends on how the year goes and what I do better at, I guess. Whatever they think I should be is probably what I'm going to end up playing."

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service