A memorable 2014 for A.J. Reed just got its golden cherry on top.
The former University of Kentucky junior first baseman/pitcher was named the 2014 Golden Spikes Award winner, given to the top amateur baseball player in the country, by USA Baseball on Thursday, beating out fellow finalists Michael Conforto (Oregon State) and Aaron Nola (LSU).
Reed nearly won the SEC Triple Crown in his third season with the Wildcats, finishing tops in the conference with 23 homers and 73 RBIs while ranking second with a .336 average. His 23 blasts were not only first in the SEC but also the most among all NCAA Division I sluggers; his .735 slugging percentage was first as wll.
The 6-foot-4 left-hander also went 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 29 walks in 112 innings as Kentucky's top starting pitcher.
Because of his impressive display at the plate though, it was largely believed that Reed's professional future was at first base heading into the June Draft. MLB.com had him ranked as their No. 30 draft prospect, giving him an above-average 60 grade on his power tool to go with a 55 on his overall hit tool.
Despite projections and mock drafts that had him going in the first round, the 21-year-old slugger, who was originally drafted in the 25th round as a high school pitcher by the Mets in 2011, was taken 42nd overall by the Astros with the first pick of the second round. MLB.com reported that he had signed with the organization four days later and had agreed to a $1.35 million signing bonus, the assigned value for that slot.
"A.J. Reed was one of the best college bats in the draft this year, and his accomplishments speak for themselves", Astros director of amateur scouting Mike Elias said in a release announcing the signing. "What impresses us most with A.J. is his ability to use his power to both fields, his defensive prowess at first base, and the enthusiasm with which he plays the game. He's going to be a fun player to watch and should immediately establish himself as one of our top power prospects in the Minors."
Reed was assigned to Class A Short Season Tri-City in the New York-Penn League and has thrived in his first professional go-round. He's put up a .311/.415/.485 slash line with three homers, nine doubles, 22 RBIs and two steals in 28 games with the ValleyCats. He has 17 walks compared to only 16 strikeouts.
Golden Spikes finalist Conforto was taken 10th overall by the Mets after putting up a .345/.504/.547 with seven homers and 56 RBIs with Oregon State. Nola was chosen with the seventh overall pick by the Phillies. The 6-foot-2 right-hander went 11-1 with a 1.47 ERA, 134 strikeouts and 116 1/3 innings for LSU. Conforto signed July 11 but has not yet made his pro debut; Nola debuted with Class A Advanced Clearwater on June 23.