Former Kentucky star gets a new start after his career stalled with Astros

AJ Reed once appeared to be a lock for Major League Baseball stardom.

Now the 26-year-old former University of Kentucky slugger, who struggled to get to the big leagues with the Houston Astros, is getting another chance. The Chicago White Sox claimed the first baseman/designated hitter off waivers Monday and will start him out at Triple-A Charlotte.

Reed won the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the best amateur player in the country, while leading the nation with 23 home runs as a college junior at Kentucky in 2014. He also hit .336 that season, posted a 12-2 record with a 2.09 ERA on the mound, was the SEC’s Player of the Year for baseball, and the league’s SEC Male Athlete of the Year for all sports. And the list of awards went on and on.

Drafted in the second round by the Astros in 2014, his pro career started off with a bang, too. He led all of the minor leagues in home runs with 34 combined at Class A Advanced Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi in 2015.

He repeated that feat and won the Joe Bauman Home Run Award again when he hit 34 homers at Triple-A Fresno in 2017.

But Reed didn’t find success in the few opportunities the Astros gave him in the majors, and then he started struggling at the Triple-A level, too.

Reed hit .164 with three homers and eight RBI in 45 games with Houston in 2016 and then only combined for nine plate appearances (and no hits) in three games combined the next two seasons.

This season, Reed batted .224 with 12 home runs, 35 RBI and 67 strikeouts in 56 games with Round Rock, now the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, before Houston decided to designate him for assignment on July 2, removing him from its 40-man roster.

“Reed was passed by both Yordan Alvarez and Tyler White on the organizational pecking order,” the Houston Chronicle reported. “First base prospects Taylor Jones and Seth Beer are impressing at Class AAA and AA, respectively, leading to a logjam that left no spot for Reed.”

Reed heads to Charlotte with 135 career minor-league homers to go with 478 RBI and a .282 batting average.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Reed, the White Sox transferred pitcher Ryan Burr to the 60-day injured list.

Dennis Varney is the assistant sports editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com. He is a Pike County native and Western Kentucky alum. He has also worked at The Times of Northwest Indiana, The Seattle Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.