It's probably no secret by now that I'm a huge fan of Michael Reed. I think he offers an intriguing combination of skills that could make him a useful major league outfielder. The problem, if it is a problem, is that his skill set is atypical for a corner outfielder which he may or may not be where he best profiles--it depends who you ask. Right now there is no other position more wide open than center field. He might not win the job out of spring training, but Michael Reed is a name to keep your eye on.
The Brewers originally drafted him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. Taylor Jungmann (1-12) and Jed Bradley (1-15) got all the headlines--good and bad--at the time. But it's really looking like Jorge Lopez (2-70) and Reed (5-161) look like the gems of that draft. If they hit their ceilings they might even save what was starting to look like a failure of a draft.
The young outfielder doesn't get a ton of press outside of Milwaukee. That's mostly due to his lack of power and the impression that he might not be able to stick in center field. He's played mostly right field thanks in part to his strong throwing arm. But there are those that think his above average speed would allow him to stick in center (one, two). If he can that power profile plays a lot better.
But even if he has to move to a corner I think he could provide plenty of value. Taking a broad strokes look at him reminds me of Nori Aoki: low power, strong OBP, good defense, above average speed. As the years take their toll on Aoki the comparison becomes less valid. At this point I think Reed offers better defense, a bit more speed, and perhaps a bit more power--perhaps even more than that if he continues to improve in that department.
It is by no means a perfect comp. Aoki was able to maintain a strong OBP due to hitting for a high average and made just tons of contact--he has a career 7.7 K% and 90.2% contact rate which is crazy. Michael Reed doesn't figure to make as much contact and he'll strike out more--though strike outs aren't really a problem for him. What he does really well is draw walks and that's how he maintains his OBP--career minor league walk rate of 14.0%.
I wonder if perhaps Adam Eaton would be a better comparison now. According to Baseball Prospectus' similarity index 2012 Adam Eaton scores an 89. Eaton didn't play a whole lot that year but he did hit 259/382/412 in 103 plate appearances with a 14.9% walk rate. He experienced a hiccup the next year before putting in back-to-back 3+ fWAR seasons for the White Sox hitting a combined 291/363/418. In my wildest dreams I could see Reed putting up a similar line, probably with less batting average though. It should be noted that Eaton hit a fair deal better as a minor league, but he did have a similar power/speed/OBP profile.
We're getting pretty close to finding out if Michael Reed will get a chance with the Brewers. In the past he's had to move to a corner because he was playing with higher profile guys like Tyrone Taylor or simply better defenders like Kyle Wren. But with Brett Phillips at least a year away, and no clear center field options until then, this could be the year Michael Reed really breaks onto the scene. More than anything else, this is the story line I'll be following closest this year.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs