Reds' top prospects given every chance to succeed

DAYTON Nobody had to tell Dayton Dragons manager Billy Gardner Jr. to play outfielders Jay Bruce and B.J. Szymanski every day.

That's the way it is in the minor leagues. High draft choices and top prospects play. The rest work their way into the lineup.

"I think everybody knows who the prospects are," Gardner said. "The only way you're going to get better is to play. But you can play your way into the lineup.

"J.D. Reininger came in and was given first crack at third base, and Eric Eymann was a utility guy. Then Reininger didn't do well the first month, and Eymann played well."

Reininger eventually was released. Eymann is a regular.

It happens all the time, but it's not going to happen this early in the careers of Bruce and Szymanski. Even when Szymanski was struggling at the plate, hitting below .200, he was in the lineup. He was a second-round draft choice in 2004 and shows promise as a five-tool player. Bruce was the No. 1 draft choice by the Cincinnati Reds last year, and he has delivered.

Mike Griffin has been in a slump, dropping his batting average just under .270 for the first time, but he has established himself as a valuable prospect.

"He has earned the chance to play every day," Gardner said. "He does a good job defensively at multiple positions (second base, third base and left field)."

Early in his playing career, Dragons batting coach Alonzo Powell was told by a manager he would play every day until it was obvious he couldn't.

Powell made it briefly to the majors and was a three-time batting champ in Japan.

"This manager told me players will tell you if they can play," Powell said. "I never forgot that. You put them in the lineup, and they can either play or they can't."

Powell, who managed the Dragons the two previous seasons, held a team meeting before the first game.

"After the first month, guys will play their way into positions and play their way out of positions," Powell said. "It's up to you."

There is subtle homage being paid by the Dragons and probably the rest of the Reds organization to Brian Wilson, the Texas scout who suffered a heart attack and died recently in his early 30s.

The Dragons have a small white BW sticker on the backs of their batting helmets. Wilson signed outfielders Bruce and Josh Holden, infielders Griffin and Bobby Mosby, and pitcher Logan Ondrusek on this year's Dragons' team.

"B Dubs, a great guy," Bruce said. "I still have his number in my phone book."

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2157 or

mkatz@DaytonDailyNews.com.

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