Center field has been a black hole so far for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016. The triumvirate of Keon Broxton, Ramon Flores, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis have so far combined for a .147/.247/.191 slash line with one home run through the season’s first 16 games. Their cumulative 22 wRC+ ranks the Brewers’ 26th out of the 30 teams in the MLB.
The club decided this past week that they had seen enough of Broxton in the early going after he had gone hitless in his first 16 at-bats while striking out 11 times. To replace him, Slingin’ David Stearns purchased the contract of spring non-roster invitee Alex Presley from AAA. Stearns is familiar with the left-handed swinging Presley from his days in Houston, and the outfielder was off to a fine start with the Sky Sox. Presley is already 30, though, and owns just a .260/.299/.394 batting line in 330 career big league games; not at all someone who provides much upside or is likely to be with the team for the long-term; not to mention the fact that now all three center field options bat left-handed.
In selecting Presley the Brewers passed over a much more obvious candidate to take reps in center field in Michael Reed. The club’s fifth round pick back in 2011 was already on the 40 man roster (where Presley needed to be added after Zack Jones was shifted to the 60-day DL), he bats right-handed, and the homegrown prospect appears ready for an extended big-league trial.
BP ranked the 23 year old was ranked as Milwaukee’s 19th-best prospect coming into this season. Reed’s most outstanding tool is his eye-popping on base ability, as evidenced by his career .377 OBP and 14% walk rate in six minor league seasons. He’s a threat on the basepaths as well, having swiped at least 25 bags in each of the last three seasons, and already with five steals to his credit through 10 games in Colorado Springs.
Reed’s not without his warts, of course. He’s had a bit of a problem with strikeouts coming up through the farm system, though he has been able to at least cut his K rate down to around the 19-20 percent range in recent seasons. This will likely result in middling batting averages for Reed at the big league level, though his high walk total helps mitigate that.
Reed doesn’t offer much power, either, with just 12 home runs to his career ledger. He’s got an ISO of just .027 so far in Colorado Springs this season, though his career mark of .114 is a bit more palatable. He made some strides in that area last season, slugging a career-best 45 extra base hits between AA and AAA last season while hitting .269/.371/.410.
There’s also the matter of defense. Reed has only appeared in center field 77 time over six seasons and just once so far in 2016. However this may have more to do with the fact that he was often a teammate of the defensively gifted Tyrone Taylor than anything else. Reed has above-average speed and a 60 grade arm that plays well in right, so he should certainly have the tools to play a capable center field at the big league level.
I've been arguing for reed for a while now. He's their best option for CF. https://t.co/OjleneotQa
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) April 19, 2016
Reed is off to an excellent .378/.452/.405 start with five steals in 10 games for the Sky Sox so far this season. While some think that his ceiling will ultimately be that of a fourth outfielder due to his lack of power, there’s no better time to see if fringy prospects can grab a bigger role than projected than in year one of a rebuild.
Of the current slate center field options, it’s arguable that Reed possesses the highest potential upside, minus perhaps the injured Rymer Liriano (who at this point remains without a timetable for his return from facial fractures). Reed should therefore get a legitimate audition to cement his role in The Show before the next crop of outfielder prospects, lead by Brett Phillips, starts pushing for big league playing time. We’ll most definitely be seeing Reed in Milwaukee this season, but the Brewers should give him a his chance sooner rather than later.