'Last year's guy' Bruce not fading away for Dragons, Reds

Jay Bruce has been reading that the Cincinnati Reds might choose a center fielder when they pick eighth in today's start of the two-day first-year player draft.

"Then I'll be last year's guy," Bruce said.

Well, he's a Class A Dayton Dragons guy this season, and he's doing well enough to confirm the parent Reds did the right thing by drafting him No. 1 last season even though a sore shoulder has kept him out of the outfield for long stretches.

Despite a bit of a hitting slump, Bruce entered Monday night's game against Beloit with a .260 batting average, 10 homers and 38 RBIs.

Bruce is just 19 and is in no danger of being replaced by anyone from today's draft. In six previous seasons, only two players have gone directly from the draft to the Dragons, both in 2000. David Gil, a pitcher from the University of Miami, was one. Outfielder Chris Williamson was the other.

Gil is with his fourth organization now, the Nationals, and has made it as high as Class AAA. Williamson, a power hitter from McNeese State, was eventually released.

No player directly out of high school has started his pro career here. Bruce played with both Reds' rookie teams last season.

"I'm not sold on that age thing," Bruce said. "I got drafted because I was very capable of doing this."

Bruce is clearly capable, but he played fewer than 35 high school games last season, then took off nearly a month before playing rookie ball for 54 games.

How is that different from now? Since April 6, the Dragons have had three scheduled off days. They have taken batting practice nearly every day. They run in the outfield nearly every day. High schoolers play three games a week and don't take BP every day. They don't go to spring training.

"You can't be prepared for this," Bruce said. "I play more games in a month than I did my whole high school season. It's all way more than anyone thinks it is.

"But I'm not tired. I think it's going by fast. We do things to keep it interesting. It's a blast."

Bruce said he is learning a lot from the college players on the team and that he remains happy he chose playing pro ball instead of going to college.

One thing he will change is his off-season.

"I'll start a few weeks earlier with weights and running," Bruce said. "This off-season is going to be very beneficial for me."

Others who joined the Dragons during their draft season include outfielder Chris Denorfia in 2002, pitchers Thomas Pauly and Dirt Ursin in 2003, outfielder Cody Strait in 2004 and shortstop Adam Rosales and pitcher James Avery last season. So far, only Denorfia has made it to the Reds, and only briefly.