SN minor league player of the year: Reds' Jay Bruce
October 4, 2007
That Jay Bruce, he's a hard worker.
Bruce, the 12th overall pick in the 2005 draft, was slated to have a two-stop summer: first, show he could hit high-Class A pitching, then settle in at Class AA. But his hot bat -- and an injury one level up -- opened a door at Class AAA, and Bruce never looked back. After compiling a stat line of a .319 batting average, 26 home runs, 46 doubles, 87 runs and 89 RBIs in 133 games at three levels, it's evident Bruce, 20, will be swinging his lumber in Cincinnati before too long.
I caught up with Bruce a few weeks ago, and he had moved that work ethic off the baseball diamond. With a little help from longtime friend Aaron Thompson -- himself a first-round pick in the 2005 draft by the Marlins -- Bruce was painting his new house, with plans to build a patio walkway. Idle time is wasted time, eh?
Bruce, the Sporting News' 2007 minor league player of the year, took a quick break from painting to talk.
SN: Crazy year for you, wasn't it?
BRUCE: The word I've used all year is "whirlwind." It was just a whirlwind, y'know, going from one place to the other and never getting comfortable in a certain place and everything, but it worked out to my advantage and I made the most of it, I feel like. I want to build off that and take it into next year.
SN:What was it like, jumping levels so quickly? Did you even try to adjust your game?
BRUCE: I stuck with my approach, because I figure that baseball's baseball and as long as I look for a pitch I can drive and just play the outfield like I've played the outfield everywhere else my whole life, and just play my game, I felt like everything was going to work out for me and that's what I did.
SN:What's your approach at the plate?
BRUCE: I look for a fastball down the middle on every pitch, to be honest with you. I feel like that's the easiest pitch to adjust off of. You can definitely slow down your timing to hit a curveball or slider or changeup, but it's really hard to speed up your timing from looking changeup to hit a fastball. The cardinal rule for me is you never want to miss a fastball when it's hittable. That's my philosophy on it.
SN:I can't imagine you see many fastballs down the middle, though.
BRUCE: It's all about pitchers missing. Pitchers try to do a lot of different things. It all depends. They try to come inside, they try to go outside. I've heard Barry Bonds say -- and believe me, I'm not comparing myself to Barry Bonds in the least bit -- that everyone's looking for the pitcher just to miss by a little bit, just so you can put a good swing on it. If a pitcher puts a pitch where he wants to every time you're not going to hit it anyway.
SN:What are some of the things that stand out to you from this year?
BRUCE: The Futures Game. When we clinched the first half crown with Sarasota. When I hit my first walk-off. It wasn't a home run, but it was a walk-off double off the wall. That was my first walk-off anything ever. In Double A I had four doubles and one of them was a walk-off. Carolina. In Triple-A I was slumping, trying to get back in a groove and against Pawtucket, I hit two home runs at their place, so that kinda got me going again a bit.
SN:You're pretty close with your family, aren't you?
BRUCE: Definitely. My parents have been there for me all my life. They're my biggest fans, have been my whole life. They've had a blast with this whole whirlwind of a year just like I have. They watch every game on the computer. My sister really, really likes it. She always calls me and asks me where I'm playing and when I'm playing. She's special needs. She keeps up with me all the time, and it just really makes me realize what I have and to not take it for granted. It's pretty humbling when I talk with her about everything. It's awesome that she cares so much.
The skinny on Bruce from Terry Reynolds, Reds' director of player development
SN:What was the plan for Jay this year?
REYNOLDS: My thought was when we moved him to Double A that probably where he would finish the season, and if he didn't finish it there, maybe he'd get a couple of weeks up, for a taste of Triple A. He got there quickly because of injuries at the Triple A level -- injuries we thought were going to be temporary and turned out, in one case (Dewayne Wise), to be season-ending. And once he got there, he performed well enough that we didn't send him back.
SN:Is there anyone in the majors now that he's like, skill-wise?
REYNOLDS: I don't like to make comparisons like that, but I can tell you this. He's a big, strong guy who has all five tools, and it's just a matter of being able to put those all into play when he gets to the big league level. If you have to, compare him to anyone who has that type of ability, but really, there just aren't that many guys who do.
SN:Where do you see him eventually settling defensively?
REYNOLDS: He's played both center field and the corners for us. He's got an above-average arm, and it just depends on what the situation is when and if he gets to the big league level whether he'll be a center fielder or a corner outfielder. He will do a good job with either one.
SN:If someone's looking at his statistics, the number of strikeouts (135) pop out as a negative, don't they?
REYNOLDS: He's obviously aware of it, and if you're going to start picking at things, that probably would be the No. 1 thing you could say he really needs to work on. That number certainly does not need to go up. He's going to be a guy who hits 30 to 35 to 40 home runs, and you can live with those numbers, but I'm sure he's not satisfied with that. That's certainly something that, as we move forward with him as an organization, that we're going to try and work with him on to try and cut those numbers down.