Reds eye prospect Bruce
Highly regarded Texan should join Lookouts
By David Paschall Staff Writer
SARASOTA, Fla. — Awaiting touted Texans to join the Chattanooga Lookouts didn’t start and end last season with pitcher Homer Bailey.
Outfielder Jay Bruce, the No. 2 prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization behind Bailey, is expected to join the Lookouts out of high Single-A Sarasota at some point this season. Unless, that is, the 19-year-old keeps turning heads this spring.
“My guess is he probably would start in Sarasota, but don’t hold me to that,” Reds farm director Terry Reynolds said Wednesday. “He’s done everything a player can do here to earn a chance to start in Chattanooga.”
The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder from Houston was Cincinnati’s top pick in June 2005 and signed for $1.8 million. He spent the rest of that summer hitting.266 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs in 54 games between the Rookie Gulf Coast League Reds and Rookie Billings.
Last year, in 117 games with Single-A Dayton, Bruce hit.291 with 16 homers and 81 RBIs.
“Going into your first full season, you don’t really know what to expect,” Bruce said. “Being away from home for a longer period was different and all the adjustments that go with that, but it turned out great. It was a great confidence builder, and now I know what to expect this year. I’m ready to go.”
Aiding Bruce’s confidence was being named Class A player of the year by Baseball America. His 63 extra-base hits and 42 doubles led the Midwest League, and his 81 RBIs led all Reds minor leaguers.
By comparison, Austin Kearns had 48 RBIs and Adam Dunn 44 in their first full season (1999) in Cincinnati’s developmental ladder.
“He’s a young, strong kid with a really good idea about hitting,” Lookouts manager Jayhawk Owens said. “He’s got a good makeup. He plays the game hard and the right way. You know he’s only going to get stronger the next couple of years. He’s impressive.”
Bruce, who played in center and right last season, was working with the Triple-A group before joining Chattanooga on Tuesday. Reds officials believe Sarasota is his most sensible starting point, though they expect him to get called up much quicker than Bailey last season.
Bailey went 3-5 with a 3.31 earned run average in 13 starts with Sarasota before joining the Lookouts at the start of the second half. His 13 starts with Chattanooga yielded a 7-1 mark and a 1.59 ERA.
“The comparison with Homer is exactly accurate,” Reynolds said. “Jay is a very mature guy who has the attitude and aptitude that I think regardless of where he starts, the whole staff will be comfortable with that.”
Said Bruce: “I’d love to start in Chattanooga, obviously. Who wouldn’t if you had that chance? No matter where you go, you have to give your best effort and let everything else take care of itself. I trust the guys in the front office in making the right decision.”
Away from the field, Bruce considers himself “a big kid” who likes to hang out with his family, friends and girlfriend. Hobbies include hunting and fishing, but he’s rarely the one who instigates trips.
His playing idol since childhood has been Ken Griffey Jr., which he said has made for a strange transition as outfielders in the same organization.
“I respect the way he plays the game, and the stuff he can do is amazing,” Bruce said. “You can’t teach all the stuff he can do.”
Asked if Griffey gave him any pointers earlier this spring, Bruce said, “He said to play the game hard and have fun. You can tell by the way he goes about it that he’s having a good time out there. That’s what I try to do, too.”
It’s a numbers game
One can’t help but notice when Owens and Bruce stand next to each other, because each wears No. 32. So who gets that number when Bruce joins the Lookouts?
“My number can be bought,” Owens joked. “I have a price in mind.”