Reds counting on Bruce to power his way to Cincinnati
By Marc Katz
Dayton Daily News
DAYTON | Jay Bruce wants to be treated like any other Reds prospect, but that's probably impossible.
Bruce was the franchise's No. 1 pick in last summer's first-year player draft, and the only guy who stands in front of him on the organization's list of top prospects is pitcher Homer Bailey, the No. 1 pick in 2004.
"My goal is to be treated like anybody else," Bruce said during his first spring training. "I try to treat everybody like I want to be treated."
He will be treated just fine if he hits the way the Reds think he can. Scheduled to open the season in center field for the Class A Midwest League Dayton Dragons, Bruce has already exceeded expectations in just over a year.
A Beaumont, Texas, native, Bruce was in the right state to be noticed, but not the right town. As a high schooler, he received notice, but not like some of the outfielders in high-profile Houston.
Through his junior year, Bruce was considered a 3-5 round draft choice — good, but not among the best. Several of those other outfielders, just from Texas, were considered better players.
"I don't know what happened to change their mind," said Bruce, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound left-hander who turns 19 today. "I felt like I was finally noticed."
Jimmy Gonzales, one of the Reds' amateur scout cross-checkers, said Bruce, "just got more physical. He had better strength. He was one of those guys on the bubble, and he just got better. He played in a select league in Houston over the summer and he performed well, with confidence."
Somehow, Bruce emerged from the pack and was the 12th player drafted.
"It's kind of unreal," Bruce said. "It was awesome. When you're young, you talk to your friends about being taken No. 1. I don't know what happened to change their mind."
Because he was so young — only 18 — Bruce was sent to the GCL Reds in Sarasota for his first pro experience. He hit .270 in 37 games with five homers and 25 RBIs in only 122 at-bats. He was moved to Billings, another rookie team, in Montana.
Again Bruce showed power with nine homers and 38 RBIs in 70 at-bats over 17 games while hitting .257.
Comparatively, Austin Kearns hit one homer as an 18-year-old at Billings in 1998 and 13 the next season at Rockford before that Class A team moved to Dayton. Adam Dunn, at approximately the same ages, hit four homers at Billings in 1998 and 11 at Rockford the next season.
Of course, last season Bruce was under the take-a-strike edict handed down by then-Reds GM Dan O'Brien. That's off now, and Bruce said he wasn't scarred by the ordeal.
"I didn't have an opinion," Bruce said. "I was just coming out of high school where you see it and hit it. But taking a strike helped me as a hitter because I went deeper in the counts. My biggest goal is to play within myself and play well."
The scouts, coaches and other officials in the Reds department of player development say all that will happen.
Contact Marc Katz at 225-2157.