Not since John Olerud has a college baseball player had the kind of two-way impact A.J. Reed did for Kentucky this year.
Olerud, the 1988 Baseball America College Player of the Year for Washington State, has been the gold standard for two-way brilliance since hitting .464 with 23 homers and going 15-0, 2.49 on the mound 26 years ago. But in a number of ways, Reed raised the bar this spring, earning him the 2014 BA Player of the Year Award.
Using deadened BBCOR bats, Reed smacked 23 home runs as well, matching Olerud’s total with supercharged bats. Reed led the nation in homers, slugging percentage (.735) and OPS (1.211), while ranking second in total bases (164) and third in RBIs (73). He hit .336 with a .476 on-base percentage, walking (49) more than he struck out (48).
That offensive season alone would make him worthy of the Player of the Year award, but Reed also went 12-2, 2.09 in 112 innings as Kentucky’s Friday night ace in the rugged Southeastern Conference. He ranks just one win shy of the national lead and tops the SEC.
We featured Reed along with teammate Austin Cousino this season, and we wrote more about Reed when we tabbed him Player of the First Half in April. We covered his final collegiate weekend, writing about his complete game and crucial RBI double to lead Kentucky past Kansas in a regional elimination game. Now it’s time to let others do the talking. Reed’s coach, and those who coached against him, weigh in on his season.
“A.J. is a genuine kid. He’s smart, he’s got great baseball instincts, he treats people well, he’s got a good sense of humor, he’s a very good student, he’s a hard worker, he’s done a great job of doing everything we’ve asked him to do.
“He’s grown up through the three years he’s been with us, which is awesome to see. He and I had some real heart-to-hearts in August. You illustrate the path that they need to travel in order to get better, and he bought in.
See also: Baseball America’s All-Americans
I’m saying, ‘You’ve got to lose 25 pounds and you’ve got to start looking at yourself as a real guy. You’ve got to take the steps necessary to do that.’ What’s that mean, what’s that entail? That’s not a five-minute conversation; it’s not a one-time conversation either.
Go back and look at what he did at Harwich (in the Cape Cod League) over the summer offensively; (he hit .218 in) 55 at-bats or something. He didn’t get to hit. So you have the conversations that you have with kids, and some of them are pretty pointed. And the relationships are close. When you have those conversations with kids, they either buy in or not, make the adjustments or not. Kids don’t always make the right adjustments. But he did.
“I just think it speaks volume to the type of person he is, what he was able to do, and what happens to you when you get yourself in shape. All of a sudden now you can carry yourself down the mound 110 times as opposed to 85. And all of a sudden that barrel is consistently out in front, and you can turn a single into a double. Your body works at a higher rate. The guy made a commitment to become great, he really did. And I’m just really proud of him.”
Gary Henderson, Kentucky
“He is a threat every time he comes to the plate. He handles himself very well. He does everything that you want your National Player of the Year to do. He reminds me of (College Baseball Hall of Famer) Brad Wilkerson that was at Florida; he reminds me of (1993 BA Player of the Year) Brooks Kieschnick that was at Texas—great two-way players in this game.”
Scott Stricklin, Georgia
“The numbers he’s put up in this conference, it’s unbelievable to be honest with you. And not only what he’s done at the plate, but what he’s done on the mound . . . I think he should walk away with almost all the awards, except for the just pure pitching awards. You don’t put up those type of numbers in what I feel like is the best conference in America, especially in today’s era where the bats have changed.”
Dave Serrano, Tennessee
“I don’t think there’s any question as to who the national Player of the Year is. It’s A.J. Reed. When you consider him doing both (pitching and hitting—in this league, at the highest level, and being consistent week in and week out, offensively and on the mound, it was unbelievable. And to watch him take BP and to watch him in the games, a lot of different teams played the shift on him and tried a lot of different things and obviously pitched around him every chance they got—I know we did—and it didn’t matter. He still made a difference in each and every game. Just special.”
Rob Childress, Texas A&M
“First, I’ve been in this league now around 15 years as an assistant and a head coach, and he’s having as impressive a year as we’ve seen in a very long time on both sides. And then on the mound, he’s a great competitor and has just been dominant for them on Friday night. On the offensive end, it just speaks for itself what he’s been able to do with obviously the home runs, but he’s really made himself a dynamic player. When you can do that in this league, which is considered the No. 1 league in America, I think that just speaks of the talent he has.
“I think he’s a guy we’re going to cut the TV on here soon in big league games and be watching him. I think the interesting part is just going to be which direction they go with him. I think offensively, he’s as good of a power-type guy as there is in the country right now with his numbers—but he’s about equally as good on the mound. So I think that’s the only question, which direction you go with him.”
Mitch Gaspard, Alabama
“You certainly have to look at his numbers and you’re astonished by them. I mean, even two-way players like John Olerud didn’t put up those types of numbers—and put up those types of numbers in this league. I think he’s an outstanding player; he really is in a lot of ways. He’s got a good way about him. He’s got great presence. The skill is obviously seeable, how valuable he is to Gary and those kids. It would be understated if you said anything. So I think he has to be seen as one of those guys who could be the Player of the Year in a lot of people’s eyes.”
Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt
“Oh, I think he’s the national Player of the Year. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, at least from me. I mean, that’s crazy what he’s done, leading the conference in home runs and being a Friday night starter. I don’t think anybody’s come close to doing the things on the field that he’s done, and I’m sure he’s obviously the most important player to Kentucky’s team.”
Chad Holbrook, South Carolina