Bruce could be right (field) fit
Rather than playing center, young prospect may end up being Griffey's replacement
BY JOHN FAY | JFAY@ENQUIRER.COM
SARASOTA, Fla. - Jay Bruce started the Reds' exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox Saturday in right field.
Bruce has gotten more playing time there than in center field, although he's competing for the job in center.
It well could be.
Right field, of course, is occupied by one Ken Griffey Jr. Bruce isn't going to get any time in right once the real games start - unless Griffey is hurt or gone.
Whether Griffey gets hurt is anyone's guess. He obviously has had his share of injuries in recent seasons. But it should be noted that he played in 144 games last year.
The Reds won't say it, but there's a good chance they're looking beyond this season - or at least the start of this season - when it comes to Bruce.
Griffey is in the last year of his contract, though the Reds hold a $16.5 million option for 2009.
Griffey thinks he knows what they'll do.
"Sixteen million or $400,000," he said to no one in particular the other day. "What do you think they're going to do?"
Pay Bruce $400,000 to play and let Griffey go is the assumption Griffey's making.
That is not to say Bruce is completely out of the center-field competition. If he heats up considerably, he might force the Reds' hand.
But playing him in right field might indicate that's where the Reds think he'll end up long-term. Manager Dusty Baker hinted at that by saying he was worried about Bruce's legs in the wake of the outfielder's minor quad injury.
Bruce played mostly center field in the minor leagues, so he's comfortable enough there that the Reds can just plug him in at the position if they choose. (By the way, one of the things Bruce has impressed me with this spring is his speed.) But he needs to learn to play right field if he's going to be there long-term.
Another possibility: The Reds could pick up the option on Griffey, trade Joey Votto and play Griffey at first base and Bruce in right. But that's just pure speculation on my part.
Adam Dunn's status affects all this, too. The left fielder is eligible for free agency after this season. The Reds and Dunn said when camp opened that nothing is going on as far as talks about an extension.
My guess is an extension will get done, particularly if Dunn plays well early this season.
I'm on record as saying I thought Bruce would make the club out of spring training. I thought he'd overwhelm the Reds by playing so well he'd force their hand.
He's played well, but not that well. The quad injury came at a bad time, and the Reds have signed outfielder Corey Patterson since camp opened.
My guess is the Reds will have Patterson platooning in center field with either Norris Hopper or Ryan Freel.
Sending Bruce to Triple-A Louisville won't be popular with fans, but that doesn't make it the wrong decision. Bruce is 20 years old and has played all of 66 games above the Single-A level.
A player development guy I respect told me Louisville is the right place for Bruce to start the season.
What happens after the start of the season largely depends on how the Reds play. If they're winning and the center-field platoon is working, Bruce could be blocked from coming to the big leagues for much of the year.
If they struggle early, look for the Reds to try to move Griffey and open right field for Bruce earlier instead of later.