He started his career as a much ballyhooed recruit from Terre Haute, Indiana, a big, left-handed guy (6-4, 240 pounds) known for his abilities to throw the fastball and hit the big home run.
And what did he become? A legend.
After coming to Kentucky five years ago, he was the first consensus freshman All-American in the program’s history. He was a pro talent waiting to explode. In 2013, he played in all 55 games, starting 14 as a pitcher as one of the best two-way players in America. Still, many wondered when we’d see the best of Andrew Joseph Reed.
We saw it the very next season. In 2014, A.J. Reed hit .336 and led the nation in homers with 23. As a pitcher he went 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA and struck out 71. He swept the national and conference player of the year awards, a first for a Wildcat. He also earned the SEC’s male athlete of the year in any sport.
After his junior season Reed decided to turn pro, and he was drafted in the second round by one of the best organizations in baseball – the Houston Astros. For the past two seasons he’s been riding buses on back roads, playing every day and loving every minute of it. This season he’s with his third team in the organization, in what’s called “advanced” A ball, just below double-A. He’s playing first base for the Lancaster (California) JetHawks, about an hour northeast of L.A.
He’s hitting .299 on the season, with 15 home runs and 52 RBI in 55 games. (In his last 10 games he’s at .333 with three homers and 14 RBI). He’s been named the player of the month, and a California League All-Star. Folks are already touting him as a great slugger.
Yet with all this going on, he took time out with KSR to reflect and chat about his life. “I’ve seen the site a few times,” he said, laughing.
It made me think he’s seen it a few more times than that.
KSR: What is your life like now? Is it like what we see in the movies? Riding buses and playing ball?
A.J.: You play, eat and sleep. Every now and then we’ll get a day off, and I went to visit L.A. and San Diego because I’ve never been out this way very much. And yeah, you’re on the bus a lot. Lucky for us our longest trip is only five hours away. There’s some leagues where you’ll drive 15 hours to go play. But not for us.
KSR: You’re in ‘Advanced’ A Ball … Does that essentially mean you’re smarter than all the other A ball players? That this is the advanced class?
A.J. (laughs): No. It just means we’re right under Double-A.
KSR: You’re with a pretty good organization – the Houston Astros – right now …
A.J.: Yes. All of our minor league teams are either in first place or just a couple games out. It’s nice to see the big league club doing so well.
KSR: And how are you playing right now? No pitching anymore. They’ve got you slugging and playing first base …
A.J.: I’ve been doing pretty well this month, hitting well, just trying to get home runs and RBIs. Defensively, I’m trying to get better at first base. When I was drafted, the Astros said they wanted me at first – no pitching. It took a little while to get used to last season, but now I’m just focused on hitting better and getting better at first, working on my range.
KSR: Is there an advantage coming into pro ball after being a pitcher?
A.J.: Yeah there could be. I understand how difficult it is. But there’s also a possible disadvantage – I don’t want to start guessing what I would do as a pitcher. I just need to think like a hitter.
KSR: We’ve heard from basketball guys at UK who say the game changes when it becomes a job. True?
A.J.: You’re playing everyday. Your diet changes. You prepare for 140 games as compared to 55 in college. You have to be ready to play everyday. I try to do whatever I can to make sure I’m ready for games.
KSR: You were a junior when you left UK. Do you wish you could’ve played your senior year?
A.J.: It was the right time for me to go. I did miss the guys on the team and I missed college baseball. But it was time for me, in my career, to go.
KSR: After sweeping all the player of the year awards, what else could you do?
A.J. (laughs): No one really had that in their heads at the beginning of the year.
KSR: You’re an Indiana guy. Do you still hear from the Indiana folks about going to UK?
A.J.: All the time when I go home. Even this year, when (the basketball Wildcats) lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin, the Indiana people talk to me about it. They never stop.
KSR: What are your goals and what are the goals the organization has for you?
A.J.: They don’t say much. But we want to be in the big leagues by the end of next season. I have to work at it, and I’m not sure what the normal timeline is, but that’s what we’re thinking. I have to keep hitting, keep hitting home runs, keep getting better at first base. And every day, just have fun.
KSR: What do you want to say to your Big Blue fans back home?
A.J.: Just thanks for the support. I’m glad we got to share the success we did. Maybe we’ll get to see some fans in Triple A someday when we can travel to Louisville. It’s an important and fun time in my life, and I just want to keep playing my best to make everybody there and back home proud.
Do you have a great memory of watching a former UK athlete as a pro? I’ll always remember watching Tay win a title in Detroit and Rondo win a title in Boston – and I love seeing JB Holmes win on the PGA Tour. Leave your stories or pics below and let us know. Or email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter: @rhinoKSR or my website: ForRyanOutLoud.com and maybe I’ll share them.