02-23-2007, 03:07 PM
02-23-2007, 04:16 PM
SPRING TRAINING BASEBALL / CINCINNATI REDS
Future may come early for ace Bailey
By JON STYF
SARASOTA -- Baseball legends like Johnny Bench can come and go from the Cincinnati Reds' spring training complex without hardly being noticed by fans looking for autographs.
But whenever Homer Bailey strolls out to the parking lot, you hear the cries.
"Homer, can you sign this?"
In the short-term memory world of baseball, the 20-year-old is all the buzz around Reds camp this season, even though he's thrown just one bullpen session since pitchers reported and has never played above Double-A.
"The only time I think about it (the attention) is when you guys ask me about it," Bailey said. "I kind of take it with a grain of salt."
In camp, however, he's just one of the mass. He and his fellow pitchers have been spending their days working on their fielding hoping to avoid the fate of last year's Detroit Tigers, whose pitchers set a World Series record with an error in five straight games.
Since starting his second pro season with a modest 3-5 record in the Florida State League as a Sarasota Red, interest in Bailey -- the No. 7 overall pick in the 2004 June Baseball Draft out of high school -- has skyrocketed.
He joined the playoff race with the Double-A Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts and immediately became their star, pitching six scoreless innings while hitting 98 mph on the radar gun with a fastball on his 96th pitch.
"I was here (Sarasota) more to work than necessarily compete," Bailey said. "Once I got to Chattanooga, I just let go and tried to go out and win games. I had to go in and show them I could help."
Immediately the buzz began for Bailey to become a late-season major-league call-up, especially after getting the win in July's nationally televised MLB Futures Game.
The Reds, however, balked at throwing their top prospect and the organization's Minor League Player of the Year into that situation.
This spring, though, they have taken the kid gloves off. The youngster has a shot at making the Opening Day roster as the team's fifth starter behind Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, Eric Milton and Kyle Lohse.
If not, he'll likely start the season at Triple-A Louisville.
"If I'm up there, I want it to be because I earned it and did well," Bailey said. "I'm not overly impatient about it."
The attention surrounding a pitching prospect like Bailey is heightened because the Reds haven't had anything comparable in recent memory. And with the success of rookie pitchers like Los Angeles' Jared Weaver, Minnesota's Francisco Liriano and Detroit's Justin Verlander last season, there is hope that Bailey could lead this year's class.
But none of that seems to faze the laid-back pitcher who spends his offseason hunting and wears cowboy boots to work.
"I don't think it concerns him," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "I think he knows he's pretty good, and I think he knows he's got a chance to be pretty good. I think he's smart enough to know too that he's not going to come to the major-league level and just dominate from the beginning."
One of the obstacles he'll have to clear this season is learning to use his offspeed pitches, a curveball and changeup that he didn't need much last year.
Major-league hitters are used to fastballs, so Bailey will have to adapt, something he is confident he can do.
"My game plan (last year) was to make them hit the fastball first because it's the toughest thing for them to hit," Bailey said. "Once they start sitting and looking for it, then I'll throw something offspeed."
Narron is staying tight-lipped about his exact plans for Bailey this spring, admitting he'll get a chance but adding, "I know what I'm going to do, but I'm not going to tell you."
Starting a game, especially at home, is still an uncertainty.
"If he starts, I'm not going to tell (the media) until the day he probably starts," Narron said. "If we've got a spot where we might be able to work him in, yeah. But he's got other guys ahead of him in that respect.
Last modified: February 22. 2007 5:49AM
02-24-2007, 03:23 AM
Everyone loves Homer. Great arm, terrific potential, powerful and easily one the most likeable guys in the organization. Pushing him too quickly into the Majors, might be the greatest risk he'll face. We cannot expect him to hold himself back, who'd want a guy that didn't wake up in the morning feeling he was ready for the top. A careful, well charted course of his rise should be the primary charge given to those overseeing his promotions. The beauty of baseball, when compared to other sports, is the long held tradition of "coming up through the minors". Lessons learned there, build the athlete mentally and physically, preparing him for the long-term. No other sport has allowed player development to dominate the decision-making like baseball. To football and basketball, it is the hyped up decisions to produce now, that has led to so many early exits of the super-talented prospects. The attendant pressure of standing on a MLB mound, has broken many "can't miss" prospects. With Homer not yet eligible for a legal post-game beer, we have time and should use it. His popularity could cloud the decision process, if management decides that putting butts in the seats is more important than his timely development. Just another Red Thread
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