Three Bats hope they'll be base of Reds' revival

By Rick Bozich
The Courier-Journal

If the Louisville Bats were a high school basketball team, Rick Pitino, Billy Gillispie, Kelvin Sampson and a million other coaches would be arm-wrestling outside the batting cage, trying to impress the players.

But the Bats don't have recruits. The Bats have prospects the most intriguing trio of prospects in baseball.

That's not the opinion of Gapper, the Cincinnati Reds' mascot. That's the opinion of Baseball America magazine, which covers the minor leagues the way mozzarella covers a good pizza.

On Monday Baseball America released its revised rankings of the Top 25 prospects in baseball. No minor league team had three players ranked higher than the Bats, who were represented by outfielder Jay Bruce (No. 2), pitcher Homer Bailey (No. 5) and outfielder Joey Votto (No. 18).

"I think it shows that, as an organization, the Reds are headed in the right direction," said Bruce, 20.

"Hopefully, something like that will give the people in Cincinnati something to get excited about," said Votto, 23. "It would be great if the three of us could go up and form a nucleus to get things going."

Small-market Brewers playing big

That is the plan. The Reds' longtime lament that it's impossible for a smaller-market team to compete in today's baseball economic climate is losing its credibility. Check the standings.

The team leading the Reds' division is Milwaukee. It's tough to get more small market than the Brewers. But Milwaukee is winning the way a small-market team must win by drafting wisely, developing talent and spending intelligently.

For too many years it looked as if the Reds were wearing a blindfold and pulling names from a hat ... Chris Gruler, David Espinosa, Ty Howington. You know the sorry list.

Bruce, Votto and Bailey can help change that. Bailey has the arm and demeanor of a guy who intends to pitch well in the big leagues for a long time.

His control disappeared during the six games he pitched in Cincinnati this summer, but Bailey isn't the first 21-year-old to squeeze the baseball too hard during his first big league visit. He will return to Cincinnati and win.

Baseball America compared Bruce's gorgeous left-handed batting stroke to Larry Walker's and Walker was a career .313 hitter who rattled out 2,160 hits.

Bruce played his seventh game with the Bats tonight. Most guys his age are playing in college. Bruce just keeps moving runners around the bases and moving north from Sarasota to Chattanooga to Louisville.

Hoping to stick

Bruce knows the word is he is supposed to return to Chattanooga when Bats outfielder Dewayne Wise gets healthy.

"My goal is to make it as tough as possible on them to send me down," said Bruce, who trailed Arizona outfield prospect Justin Upton on the magazine's list.

"Homer and Jay are the real deal," Votto said. "They've lived up to the hype at every level. That's not easy."

It's safe to believe the hype on Votto, too. This is a guy who could hit .300 in a sandstorm. First base is his best position, but Votto played his 19th game in left field tonight.

Hmmm. Who plays left field in Cincinnati?

Votto said he has heard the rumors everybody in baseball has heard, that the Reds are entertaining trade offers for left-fielder Adam Dunn. Votto admits that he started thinking about the major leagues last September, after he was named MVP in the Southern League.

In fact, when Bruce arrived in Louisville, Votto reminded him of their plan.

"Wouldn't it be great if we could go to Cincinnati, hit third and fourth, like Big Papi (David Ortiz of the Red Sox) and Manny (Ramirez, his teammate) and become fixtures in the lineup."

Said Bruce, "Sounds great to me."