Bailey poised for big move up
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
SARASOTA, Fla. - It was only the second day of live batting practice, and none of the hitters cycling through the batting cage seem likely to make the Opening Day roster.
Nonetheless, the sight of Homer Bailey throwing full-tilt grabs your attention. The Reds' top prospect certainly woke Aaron Holbert up Thursday morning. The veteran infielder smoked the first pitch he saw from Bailey to the opposite field, then had to dive for the dirt on the youngster's second delivery, which zipped in high and tight.
Everybody got a good laugh out of it - just working out the kinks, you know - but there were plenty of raised eyebrows and shaking heads around the cage when Bailey got cranked up. With a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and an off-the-table curveball, Bailey's stuff may be nastier than anyone else's in big-league camp.
It's easy to forget he's only 19 years old.
Baseball America has unveiled its list of the top 100 prospects in the majors, and Bailey is one of only two Reds farmhands on the list, coming in at No. 38. The guy one slot ahead of him, Red Sox right-hander Jona- than Papelbon, could very well be in Boston this year.
Is there any set of circumstances that might put Bailey in Cincinnati in 2006?
"When he's ready to pitch in the big leagues, we'll put him in the big leagues - if that's April 1 of this year or its April 1 of 2008," said Reds manager Jerry Narron. "My whole thing is, 'Is he ready?' Not, 'How much time has he spent in the minor leagues?'"
Bailey has pitched only 116 professional innings since the Reds made him their first-round draft pick two years ago and gave him a $2.3 million signing bonus. None of his competition has been above the low-Class A level, but that will change this spring as Bailey will at least see higher-level minor league hitters while in big-league camp.
"He's probably not going to get the opportunities this spring that he'd like," said Narron, noting the number of pitchers closer to the majors the Reds will have to get into games more regularly. "I'm sure we'll get him out there at some time."
It's almost inconceivable that Bailey would make the team out of spring training, but the experience he gains could help accelerate his progress through the system. The Reds are leaning toward starting Bailey at high-Class A Sarasota this year, as he still has a ways to go in other aspects of his game - holding runners, fielding his position and bunting among them. But he could very well make the jump to Chattanooga in short order if he gets off to a good start.
"He's going to be very good," Narron said.