You would be forgiven for not knowing who this Josh Reddick playing for the Oakland Athletics is, and why he already has 10 homers through 38 games of the season. After all, he had a few random cups of coffee with Boston over the last few seasons, and was never made into a full-time starter with them in 2011, despite the absence of regular right fielder J.D. Drew. He was dealt to Oakland this winter in the Andrew Bailey deal, though, and he was given the chance to play every day. At this point, it looks like he has a stranglehold on a job he's never been able to keep.
Reddick took a strange path to the majors. He was a 17th-round selection of the Red Sox in the 2006 amateur draft, but didn't start until 2007. Once there, Boston threw him straight into full-season Single-A, where he mashed as if he hadn't taken any time off, and had him finish up the season in Double-A Portland.
Boston then sent him back to Single-A, with Reddick spending more time with High-A Lancaster than anywhere in 2008. To no one's surprise -- this is Lancaster we're talking about -- Reddick just hit and hit, posting a line of .343/.375/.593. Reddick featured impressive plate coverage, as well as plenty of power. The one thing he lacked at this stage was any semblance of patience.
Prospects with some hitting ability can get through a significant chunk of the minors without any kind of discipline at the plate. Eventually, more advanced pitchers with more refined stuff, who have developed their own plans, will start to push against these undisciplined sluggers. Plenty adjust to this, but there are those who never push back hard enough.
Reddick's first real stint at Double-A fit the latter mold, as he hit all of .214/.290/.436, with just 12 walks and 25 strikeouts over 132 plate appearances. His lack of discipline led to pitchers exploiting him, knowing he would swing at just about anything. He might not have struck out constantly at the level, but he set himself up for weak contact and defensive swings with his aggressive nature, and it reflected in his batting average just the same.
He was still just 22 years old in 2009, though, meaning there was plenty of time to develop further, closing this hole in his game. That's just what he did, too, as his second full stint at Double-A produced a line of .277/.352/.520 with 33 extra-base hits in 287 plate appearances. It was rinse and repeat for him after a promotion, though, with Reddick struggling in his brief time in both the majors and in Triple-A.
The 2010 season started out much the same way, as Reddick's strike zone was far too expanded for him to be able to hit. Pitchers knew what he was about, and they weren't making life easy for him -- why should they, given he was bound to swing at just about anything? Something clicked after the All-Star break, though, and Reddick started to look once again like a player with a future. In the second half, Reddick hit a crazy .351/.372/.627 over his final 185 at-bats. There weren't many walks to go around, but it's hard to complain given the power outburst.
In 2011, Reddick once again began the season at Triple-A. Ryan Kalish had passed him on the depth chart thanks to a strong 2010 campaign, and it was expected he would be the first line of defense against an outfield injury. Kalish went down before anyone in Boston did, though, and Reddick hit .230/.333/.508 in his first 231 plate appearances for Pawtucket. The average was low, but he looked like he had finally established some plate discipline without sacrificing his power. In just 52 games, he drew more walks (33) than he had in 132 previous contests at Triple-A.
Reddick started to play nearly every day in Boston, and finished the year with an above-average .280/.327/.457. He didn't draw many walks -- though no one expected him to -- but it wasn't for a lack of discipline. He drew 3.8 pitches per plate appearance, and kept his strikeouts down as well. Reddick fouled off pitches until he saw what he wanted to, and while it didn't always result in a base hit or a walk, it was still an impressive display of strike zone recognition from a 24-year-old rookie.
His numbers suffered as the year went on and more off-speed and breaking pitches were thrown his way, as is typical of all non-Bryce Harper rookies. Boston still liked Reddick, but with Kalish working his way back from surgery, and Reddick's name popping up in trade negotiations, they moved him to the Athletics.
As seems to be the case with Reddick at each level, his second go-round has been much improved. He's hitting .283/.337/.546 with 10 homers and 19 extra-base hits. Sans context, that's a significant jump from his 2011 production, but when you throw in that he moved from friendly Fenway to the cavernous Coliseum, the difference sticks out that much more.
He's drawing more walks, likely a by-product of taking even more pitches (four per plate appearance). That also likely has helped him hit for more power, as he's taken control of more plate appearances than before, forcing the pitcher to throw him something he can send into orbit. It's not a predictive stat, but according to Fangraphs' pitch value data, Reddick has had no trouble with the secondary stuff that gave him fits in the past. It also helps that the league is throwing more fastballs his way, a mistake they're likely to recognize and rectify soon.
All of this would be fine on its own, but Reddick is also a quality defender. He had a plus arm coming up through Boston's system, and it's been on display quite a few times this year already:
A quality defender with a dangerous bat, and he's playing for the Oakland Athletics without the name "Cespedes" across his shoulders. That might be a surprise to many fans -- it might even be a surprise to the A's, who initially wanted lefty Felix Doubront rather than Reddick in the Andrew Bailey trade -- but to anyone who has followed the ups and downs of his career, Reddick's success in 2012 is just the next step for a player who has always had the tools.