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DAYTON - Jay Bruce is one of those first-to-arrive-and-last-to-leave baseball players.

One day this spring, before the clock struck 8 a.m., he entered the weight room at the Reds' spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla., and found another outfielder already at work.

"I walked in and Ken Griffey Jr. was on the bike," said Bruce, whom the Reds selected 12th overall in last year's draft. "So I rode the bike next to him for about 15 minutes."


They talked a little about the World Baseball Classic, and baseball in general, but mostly Bruce just listened to the 12-time All-Star, whose talent he has admired for years.

"He's awesome - down-to-earth, funny, just a regular person," Bruce said. "I don't know him too well. Hopefully, one day, I'll get to know him pretty well."

Griffey was 19 years old when he debuted with the Mariners in 1989.

Bruce turned 19 just a few days before his first full professional season began with Single-A Dayton last week. He's the youngest player on the Dragons' roster.

"I'm just like everybody else when I step between the lines or when I walk in the door," Bruce said before Tuesday's 2-1 victory over Lansing at Fifth Third Field. "We're all trying to get to the same exact place, and we all have to perform to get there."

Baseball America rated the Beaumont, Texas, native the second-best prospect - behind 2004 first- round pick Homer Bailey, a pitcher - in the Reds' farm system after last season.

Before the Reds drafted Bruce in the first round and gave him a $1.8 million signing bonus, he batted .538 with 12 home runs, 31 RBI and 13 stolen bases as a high school senior.

Bruce's initial exposure to professional baseball came with affiliates in the Gulf Coast and Pioneer leagues. In 54 games last season, he batted .266 with nine home runs, 38 RBI and a .341 on-base percentage.

"No big adjustments for me, I guess," Bruce said.

"The way the ball came off the bat, as an outfielder, was different," Bruce added. "Hitting was the same, because I hit with wooden bats a lot in high school. A lot of it was just playing every day - waking up and doing it every day."

Entering Thursday, he had six hits in 30 at-bats (.200). He and B.J. Szymanski have alternated playing right field and center field for Dayton.

"The plan right now is to expose them to both positions," Dragons manager Billy Gardner said. "I think the center field position is more of a high-visibility position. I think it pushes them defensively."

Bruce and Szymanski, the Reds' second-round pick in 2004, do that well enough on their own. Though more than four years apart in age, they bonded during spring training and are sharing an apartment this season.

"We just clicked instantly," Bruce said. "We're both from Texas and are trying to play a similar game by the hitters we are and the outfielders we are.

"We try to talk as much as we can and learn from each other. I learn a lot from him every single day."

Gardner and Dragons hitting coach Alonzo Powell have been impressed with Bruce's eagerness to learn and improve.

"He wants to learn," Gardner said. "You take that work ethic and his physical ability, which he has a lot of, and you've got a player with a pretty good upside."

Powell has been working with Bruce on hitting the ball to the middle of the field, and he fields plenty of questions from him about the mechanics of hitting.

"Jay always wants to get better," Powell said. "You like to see that in a young kid. He's always offering to do extra hitting. A lot of times I've got to tell him to take a day off and we'll do some tomorrow."

Bruce admits to pushing too hard at times. He said his impatience comes from having a major-league goal in mind and enjoying the pursuit of it.

"They call it a job and everything, but I don't understand how people could call this a job," Bruce said. "It's fun. It's what I love to do and what I've loved to do ever since I could remember."

E-mail kkelly@enquirer.com