Compiled By Jamie H. Vaught
The Houston Astros have been living in the basement for the past three years, posting horrible records of 106, 107 and 111 losses.
But the baseball franchise has a bright future, showing improvement during the early part of the 2014 campaign. As of Monday morning, June 16, Houston's record was 32-39. If the Astros maintain that same pace for the remainder of the season, they would finish with a 73-89 mark, a significant improvement over the past years.
Nevertheless, Houston is a team on the rise with several outstanding young players on its 25-man playing roster. Led by all-star second baseman Jose Altuve, the Astros are featuring rookies like 1B Jon Singleton and RF George Springer (who was named the AL Rookie of the Month for May).
And Houston got more power when it recently picked ex-Wildcat baseball star AJ Reed (pictured), called by some as the new "Babe Ruth," as the No. 42 prospect overall in the 2014 MLB Draft. In addition, the Astros took prep pitcher Brady Aiken with the No. 1 overall pick and University of Virginia's Derek Fisher at No. 37.
The 6-4, 240-pound Reed, a left-handed pitcher and first baseman from Terre Haute, Ind., becomes the eighth player in UK history to be chosen in the first or second rounds of the MLB Draft.
And he quickly signed a contract with Houston which included a reported $1.35 million bonus.
Astros Director of Amateur Scouting Mike Elias praised Reed's talent and attitude.
"AJ Reed was one of the best college bats in the draft this year, and his accomplishments speak for themselves," said Elias in a Houston press release. "What impresses us most with A.J. is his ability to use his power to both fields, his defensive prowess at first base, and the enthusiasm with which he plays the game. He's going to be a fun player to watch and should immediately establish himself as one of our top power prospects in the minors."
The former UK player will begin his professional career as a first baseman with the Astros' short-season affiliate -- Tri-City ValleyCats -- in the New York-Penn League.
Interestingly, Reed is also the second straight SEC Player of the Year who was picked by the Houston organization. In the 2013 draft, the Astros picked Vanderbilt's Tony Kemp in the fifth round.
Statisically, Reed, who batted .336, led the nation in the home runs (23), slugging (.735) and OPS (1.211). With a 2.08 ERA in 16 starts, he also ranked fourth in pitching victories with 12 wins.
Reed is the third SEC player chosen in the 2014 draft, behind a couple of star hurlers Aaron Nola of LSU (No. 7 in the first round by the Phillies) and Tyler Beede of Vanderbilt (No. 14 in the first round by the Giants). And only two more players from SEC (which had a record-breaking 10 teams in the 64-team NCAA tournament) were chosen in the second round after Reed.
Reed has received numerous honors as he was named the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy, National Player of the Year by the Collegiate Baseball magazine and the College Player of the Year by Baseball America. Also, Reed was one of three finalists for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur baseball player.
Some of the previous winners of the Howser Trophy were Todd Helton (1995), Mark Teixeira (2000), David Price (2007), Buster Posey (2008) and Stephen Strasburg (2009).
Reed said he is very thankful for the great support he received at UK.
“First off, just would like to thank the coaches and staff at Kentucky, and my mom and my family to give me the opportunity to play baseball growing up, the coaches to give me the opportunity to play at Kentucky and in the SEC,” Reed said at the Dick Howser Trophy award presentation on June 14.
“I couldn’t have done it without anybody at UK, the coaches, the staff, and my teammates especially. They are the ones that push me and the coaches pushed me to get better every day. Without all of them, none of this could’ve been done. I’d also like to say thank you to the committee and everybody who voted for acknowledging the season. Without them, this couldn’t have been done.”
UK head coach Gary Henderson added, “I’ll give you a little bit of an idea of who AJ is. The numbers, everyone is aware of the numbers, they are spectacular. AJ is a guy that is at the center of your club. He has a good time every day he is at the field. He likes to laugh, he has a good sense of humor. He can poke fun at himself. He is fun to be around, consistently, even when it didn’t go well and he had a rough weekend, you knew that AJ was going to show up and bring energy and a smile. Those are all things that we look forward to on a daily basis with AJ Let me take a step back and thank Debbie (AJ’s mom).”
In the future, Reed could be a household name in MLB, but Henderson said the player will still be humble.
“He is going to be the same guy, five years from now, 10 years from now," said Henderson. "He is going to do something silly on TV and I am going to call him and we are going to get it squared away. That is the type of guy that AJ is. He is never going to be too big for anybody. He has just been a wonderful kid to coach."
Photo Credit: UK Media Relations