La Grange's Bailey wowing Reds fans as a 'big, hard-throwin' Texan'
AA pitcher already has Reds fans wondering when he'll throw in Cincinnati.
By Kyle Nagle
DAYTON DAILY NEWS
Friday, August 04, 2006
DAYTON, Ohio — By the time the Cincinnati Reds promoted Homer Bailey from Sarasota of the Single-A Florida State League to Double-A Chattanooga in mid-June, his name was already on the lips of Reds fans.
Then he really gave them something to talk about.
In his first start against the Carolina Mudcats on June 22, Bailey — the hard-throwing right-hander from La Grange High School — allowed no runs on five hits and struck out seven in six innings.
Since, callers to sports talk-radio shows and fan Web sites have been buzzing in anticipation to see Bailey in a Reds uniform. But hold on, say those who have watched him and hit against him in the past six weeks:
He's a wonderful pitcher, they say, but he's not ready yet.
"Should I be in Cincinnati? I don't know," said Bailey, 20, whom the Reds drafted No. 7 overall in 2004. "I don't make those decisions. I'm just happy in how I'm doing and progressing; that's what's on my mind right now. I'm making strides and learning."
Brett Carroll, a Mudcats outfielder, has followed nearly the same promotion path as Bailey. He began the season with the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Florida State League affiliate of the Florida Marlins, and moved up a step in June.
He went 2 for 3 against Bailey in that June 22 game, improving his average to .314. But he had experience against the fastball specialist, having faced him twice more in Single A.
"He's a lanky pitcher, and when he's pitching from the windup, he rears back a little bit and kind of hides the ball with a high leg kick," Carroll said. "Then he comes over the top and jerks it, so it's kind of deceiving."
Some wonder if Bailey's numbers are deceiving. Entering his stint in Chattanooga, he had a cumulative ERA of 4.00 for the Gulf Coast League Reds, Dayton Dragons and Sarasota Reds.
Then he didn't surrender a run until his fourth game as a Chattanooga Lookout and has given up only six in 41 2/3 innings.
In his four seasons at La Grange, Bailey was 41-4 with an 0.98 ERA and 536 strikeouts. He went 15-0 as a senior in 2004, leading the Leopards to the Class 3A state championship on his way to being named Central Texas' player of the year.
In the minors, Bailey has had much greater success against higher-level hitters who should be more refined. But that might be working against them, Carroll said.
"In A ball, you're not quite as sure, so you go up there free swinging a lot," he said. "You get luckier down there against fastball pitchers, whereas here guys are looking for certain pitches."
That didn't help the Huntsville Stars on June 27, when Bailey didn't allow a hit in six innings. On July 2, he faced the Jacksonville Suns for the first of two starts within three weeks against the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. His numbers were just as impressive: two hits and no runs in five innings during the first start; three hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings on July 21.
"You see plenty of guys who have a lot of hype but don't amount to much when you see them live," said J.P. Shadrick, the play-by-play broadcaster for Jacksonville. "But to see him in person, it's not just hype. He really is a big, hard-throwin' Texan."
That's one of the concerns. Some worry that his fastball is so good — averaging around 94 mph, according to minor-league observers interviewed — that he relies on it too much.
"Three out of four pitches are fastballs, because that's what a lot of guys do when they have that kind of arm," said Anthony Raglani, a Jacksonville outfielder. "You don't see his change-up much, and he has a good curveball, but it seems like he's not getting it in the strike zone consistently yet. That comes with time, and age."
By comparison, the Birmingham Barons had Bailey figured out. They scored two runs against him in seven innings on July 15.
"He'll leave some balls out over the plate, if you can react to them," said Michael Myers, a Barons utility player who went 2 for 3 against Bailey. "Still, when a guy throws that hard, you have to get lucky a little bit to hit. At least on this level. As he moves up, he won't be able to overpower hitters."
On July 27, in his sixth Chattanooga start, Bailey allowed no runs on five hits in six innings against the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. He stranded two runners on base in three straight innings, which impressed fourth-year Diamond Jaxx play-by-play broadcaster Ron Potesta.
But Bailey's night wasn't without issue. In the third inning, he hit Diamond Jaxx outfielder Chris Walker with a 95-mph fastball that grazed his upper back and struck his batting helmet. The pitch before, Walker (who was not hurt) had called a late timeout in the batter's box as the quick-working Bailey was in his windup.
Bailey said after the game that the hit was unintentional. As the third batter in the next inning, Bailey faced one pitch near his face and another behind his back before West Tenn starter Federico Baez and manager Pat Listach were ejected.
There was no controversy, however, about Bailey's numbers.
"He's effortless," Potesta said. "It doesn't look like he's throwing hard, and you don't think the pitch is going to be 93 or 94 miles an hour. That makes him fun to watch."
Reds fans hope to see him soon. For a franchise that has struggled mightily to produce pitching from its minor-league system, Bailey is seen as the greatest hope for success in first-round pitching draft picks in many years.
In that time, players such as Chris Gruler and Ty Howington — both first-round picks as starting pitchers — have failed to achieve the success that fans and management would've hoped, largely because of injuries.
Those interviewed agreed that, though he's not ready this season, Bailey is on track to pitch for the Reds sooner rather than later, assuming he avoids such dooming injuries.
"If he was like 23, 24, 25, they would be a lot more urgent to push him," said Carroll, the Carolina outfielder. "If he goes up there and gets rocked, well, they're intense fans who could sour on him in a hurry."