Bruce belongs in elite group
Baseball players have dozens of skills drilled into them from the time they start to play and continuing for as long as coaches are around to snag them for a new lesson. They're anything from how to field a chopper to short cleanly and make the throw to first in time, to how to hit the outside corner with a pitch for strike three.
But how to handle a Futures Game nod? That's a new one for Chattanooga Lookouts outfielder Jay Bruce.
"I was never taught this," said Bruce, who was one of five outfielders selected for the U.S. Team roster. "When you get drafted, you can't imagine this for your path."
Despite being a first-round pick in the 2005 Draft (No. 12 overall), the 20-year-old Reds prospect in the middle of his second professional season wouldn't find it entirely surprising if others are surprised to find his name among the elite group that will patrol the outfield for the U.S. at the 2007 XM Satellite Radio Futures Game.
But that surprise would be strictly based on experience, not talent, which Bruce clearly has in quantity.
Bruce exploded offensively in 2006 with the Dayton Dragons of the Class A Midwest League, finishing the season hitting .291 with 16 home runs, 42 doubles and 81 RBIs.
While his performance garnered him several accolades -- Midwest League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star honors, Baseball America Low Class A and Minor League All-Star, 2006 Midwest League All-Star Game Most Valuable Player -- the Futures Game selection strikes Bruce as being on another level.
"The players that have come through and played in it -- this is the Major League All-Star Game for the best Minor Leaguers," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything more at this point."
Bruce has rightfully earned the selection for his efforts this season at both Class A Advanced Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga. He is hitting a combined .317 with 14 home runs, 30 doubles and 59 RBIs in 77 games.
"My mindset going into this season was to go out and play my game," Bruce said, "Let my talent and my production speak for me, and if that does happen, there should be no question [about] the accolades I've received so far.
"I mean, I wanted to make the Futures Game. Who doesn't want to make the Futures Game? But I think it's more, 'I'm going to play hard and see what happens, and that will take me where it may.'"
Bruce is set to join what is being hailed as one of the best outfields in Futures Game history for the U.S. Team.
"I got to know Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin and Colby Rasmus a little bit, because we played in the All-Star Game last year in the Midwest League," Bruce said. "Jacoby [Ellsbury] just got called up to the big leagues. Who wouldn't want to play with guys like that? Their talent is second to none."
It's not about the talent sometimes, though, it's about experience, which Bruce said is the most important aspect of being chosen to play in a Futures Game.
"It's going to sink in a little more when we're there," said Bruce. "The guys I'm going to be around are the elite of the elite in the Minor Leagues.
"It gives all the guys there a little bit more drive. This is what we could be doing day in and day out -- playing in a big-league park, receiving the big-league treatment. This is what is available if you continue to work hard and succeed, if you continue with the path on which you're going. Once you get a taste of it, you don't want to do anything but play harder, work harder and continue toward your goals."
Because at just 20, and in only his second professional season, Bruce knows there are baseball lessons he can still learn.
Mark Shugar is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.