It’s suddenly crowded at first base for the Fresno Grizzlies.
With last year’s starter Jon Singleton back to start the 2016 season and prized prospect A.J. Reed opening the year with the Astros’ Triple-A squad, the Grizzlies have two power hitters who don’t play another position.
Good thing there’s the designated hitter spot, with the parent-club Astros having moved to the American League three years ago.
Singleton and Reed could give the Grizzlies the most potent middle-of-the-order punch throughout the minors, though manager Tony DeFrancesco said he likely will slot a right-handed hitter between the two lefty swingers when Fresno opens the Pacific Coast League season Thursday at Las Vegas.
“I’m excited to see what’s in store for us,” said the 24-year-old Singleton, a Long Beach native.
56 Home runs combined by Grizzlies sluggers Jon Singleton and A.J. Reed last season. Singleton had 22 homers in Triple A and Reed had 34 between Class A and Double A
Named by teammates and coaches as the Grizzlies’ Offensive Player of the Year in 2015, the linebacker-like Singleton – listed at 6-foot-2 and 233 pounds – hit .254 with 22 homers and 83 RBIs and an .865 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 102 Triple-A games last season.
He was leading Triple-A hitters in home runs, runs, RBIs and walks when he was called up by Houston in late June. When Singleton returned to the Grizzlies, he remained a key contributor to the franchise’s first PCL title and Triple-A national championship.
“Last year, we won a lot of games,” Singleton said. “Coming back, hopefully we can win a lot of games again.”
Reed, a 22-year-old born in Terre Haute, Ind., is considered the top first base prospect in baseball after crushing Class-A and Double-A pitching a year ago. He led all minor- league hitters with a combined 34 homers, 127 RBIs, 113 runs, 320 total bases, a .612 slugging percentage and a 1.044 OPS.
Just as gigantic are Reed’s measurables – 6-4 and 275 pounds.
“The Grizzlies had a great year last year,” Reed said. “To be able to come here and play, prepare and get better myself for whatever comes next, I feel like this is the place to do it.
“We’re going to win a lot of games.”
Left-handed sluggers Jon Singleton and A.J. Reed combined to hit .345 with 43 home runs and 153 RBIs against right-handed pitching last season. The two will hit in the heart of the order for the Grizzlies to start this season.
With that kind of power from the left side – along with another five left-handed hitters in the Grizzlies’ probable lineup – right-handed pitchers should dread facing the Grizzlies. Singleton and Reed hit a combined .345 with 43 home runs and 153 RBIs against right-handers last season.
Both lasted until this year’s final spring training cuts while vying for a spot on the major-league roster. Singleton, a notorious slow starter, was 8 for 53 but hit three homers and had seven RBIs. Reed went 14 for 45 with three homer, nine RBIs and a .933 OPS.
The big-league opening they were vying for went to former Grizzly Tyler White, who was 18 for 51 with three homers, 12 RBIs, a .443 OBP and 1.031 OPS.
It’s going to be interesting to see how we mold together as a team. The journey ahead is going to be fun.
Fresno Grizzlies second baseman Tony Kemp
“These guys are capable of hitting 25-30 home runs for sure,” DeFrancesco said. “Reed, I can’t say enough about him. He’s one of our top prospects. He led all of the minor leagues in home runs. He had a great spring.
“Singleton, another guy who understands what he’s doing,” DeFrancesco said. “He understands Triple-A pitching right now. He does have a tough time adjusting to major-league pitching. Hopefully, we can (help him) overcome all those fears and anxieties where he can go back up there and give (the Astros) a chance to win.”
Until one or both are called to Houston, the Grizzlies plan to take advantage of having them in their regular lineup.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how we mold together as a team,” Grizzlies second baseman Tony Kemp said. “The journey ahead is going to be fun.”
FRESNO GRIZZLIES AT LAS VEGAS 51S
- Series: 7:05 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 12:05 p.m. Sunday at Cashman Field
- Radio: KYNO (AM 1430)
- Of note: Former Fresno State standout Danny Muno starts the year with the 51s after playing 83 games in Triple A and 17 in the majors last season. This will be Muno’s third straight season playing in Triple A. A table-setter, Muno hit .277 with a .362 on-base percentage last season. … Fresno’s home opener is April 15, also against Las Vegas.