The 2014 draft is largely remembered in Houston for the Great Brady Aiken Incident, in which the Astros drafted the high school lefty first overall and subsequently failed to sign him (and two other pitchers due to pool money allocations) after discovering the condition of Aiken's ulnar collateral ligament wasn't to their liking. Aiken would later need Tommy John surgery and the Astros were belittled while walking away without the three pitchers they tried to acquire.
There was a silver lining to that 2014 draft, though. With the first pick of the second round, the Astros selected first baseman A.J. Reed out of the University of Kentucky. Reed was the recipient of the year's Golden Spikes award, which is given to the best amateur player in the country. He dazzled both on the mound and at the plate, pitching to a 2.09 ERA and mashing 23 homers as a junior. When he wasn't pitching he was limited to playing first base, which may be why he slipped all the way to the 42nd overall pick. First base isn't a particularly sexy position, and teams often look to snag players at premium defensive positions or impact arms in the early rounds of the draft.
After selecting him with the 42nd pick, the Astros promptly took him off the mound, and sat back and watched as his professional career took off. Scouting reports don't suggest that Reed is going to be challenging for batting titles (Baseball Prospectus' Wilson Karaman describes him as having a "three true outcomes profile," and BP's Christopher Crawford says a "chance to hit for average isn't completely out of the question,"), but he should still be a good hitter. He managed to put together a .340/.432/.612 line between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi in his first full season of pro ball. The BP reports came during his time in Lancaster, and while his pace did slow somewhat upon his arrival in Double-A, Reed has played well enough to be the starting first baseman for the Astros in the second half.
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections for the Astros have Reed slotted for the fifth-best WAR on the Astros at 2.6, given that he gets a full season's worth of plate appearances. ZiPS foresees 26 home runs and the second-most hits on the team behind Jose Altuve, but Reed almost surely won't get the 633 trips to the batter's box that ZiPS assigns him so those marks are not likely to be reached. For all his offensive prowess in the minors he's probably not yet a finished product, and even if he was, he'd almost assuredly be in Kris Bryant-style purgatory in Triple-A until his Super Two date passed.
Holding down the fort at first base until then will be Jon Singleton. Singleton was once one of the more attractive prospects in Houston's system, and many thought he and George Springer would someday form a deadly middle-of-the-order combo. Instead, Singleton has struck out in 36 percent of his 420 big league plate appearances and hit a miserable .171/.290/.331. Even his 14.3 percent walk rate can't salvage his output. It's categorically not good. Yet Singleton still hits his dingers, which the Astros love, and he's also signed to a contract that pays him just $6 million over the next three seasons. There's always a chance that he cuts down his strikeouts enough to pull off an Evan Gattis-like offensive performance.
Even if Singleton manages to become a moderately passable offensive player, his contract will always be competing with his power for consideration for the title of being his best tool. At this point, the odds that Singleton will become the good player many once forecast him to be are quite low, while the odds that Reed will be a productive player are quite high. This gives Reed the nod at the position.
If Reed does something close to his ZiPS projection once he makes the big leagues -- ZiPS projects him to have the fourth-best wOBA on the team behind Carlos Correa, Springer and Altuve -- he'll hit in the middle of the lineup for sure, likely right behind Correa. There isn't much lefty power in the Houston lineup besides Luis Valbuena and Colby Rasmus, so Reed will help balance things out.
The Astros aren't exactly the Cubs. Well, nobody's the Cubs except for the Cubs. Houston has a rather impressive farm system that's starting to bear fruit like Chicago's, but doesn't have the sheer volume of power hitters that the Cubs boast. Nonetheless, Reed is going to be the latest in a long train of players that should keep the Astros competitive for quite a while. It's been ugly and there have been some major warts, but The Process has worked. The Astros are a threat in the American League West and AJ Reed is going to be a big part of it.
Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also covers the Yankees at BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.