From Dragons to Reds, Bruce has been great — on and off the field
By Marc Katz
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
DAYTON — Some people look at the Dayton Dragons and see minor-league baseball players.
I look at the Dragons and see future Cincinnati Reds.
Not all of them, of course, but certainly Jay Bruce.
Let me walk to the edge of the limb here. He is the best prospect the Reds have signed since 1998 — two years before the Dragons came into existence — and I've seen almost all of them, from Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena to Todd Frazier, another player you'll be seeing sooner than you think in a big-league uniform.
That's just the playing part. As a person, it would be difficult to find a nicer guy than Bruce. In that regard, he'd be in competition with Paul Janish and Joey Votto, but neither one of those two were No. 1 draft picks. Bruce was, in 2005, although you'd have to know that because he'd never think of mentioning it to you.
Most top draft picks have an air around them, and a little shoulder chip that pushes them. Bruce is just "aw shucks." He will joke and kid and spend as much time with the rawest of cub reporters as he will with Hall of Fame reporters such as our Hal McCoy.
I've often told people there is no way you'd know he was a No. 1 draft pick just by talking to him.
You'd sure know it by watching him play.
That's not as easy as you might think.
From the end of spring training until the end of the playoffs, I see the Dragons play 70-to-80 games a year. That's a lot, but when you do that, you understand what scouts go through. Judging baseball talent — or any athletic talent — is a long process.
He spent 2006 with the Dragons and hit .291 with 16 homers and 81 RBIs in 117 games.
I've always felt Bruce and Votto (who played here in 2003 and '04) would hit better as they moved up because the pitching gets better. So why would they hit better against better pitching? Because in the low minors, pitching can be ragged. A batter doesn't know if the next pitch will be down the middle of the plate or headed for his left (in lefty-hitting Bruce's case, right) ear.
At least in the majors, you know the pitch is going to be around the plate. Good hitters can focus on hitting good pitches.
Being an athlete is not like other professions. Some people are smarter than others, but grammar and mathematical formulas stay the same day after day. While doctors and lawyers can be stymied by certain situations, there are plenty of medications and filings that become routine.
In baseball, a player can hit three home runs on day and none the rest of the month.
Bruce certainly has been in slumps, but if you saw him with the Dragons two years ago, you saw a young man with a purposeful stride to the plate, a beautiful swing, power, ability to run (not what they call plus-plus ability, but not a dawdler, either), instincts to catch the ball in the field and a powerful arm.
In other words, he has all the tools. He's not a classic center fielder, but he can play there. Two weeks ago I saw him in Louisville and he went to the warning track twice to make over-the-shoulder catches.
He's only 21, too, and Dragons manager Donnie Scott said as good as he is, he never thought Bruce would be ready for the major leagues so soon. Yet here he is, ready to debut with the Reds tonight against the Pirates.
How good will Jay Bruce be in the major leagues?
Well, he can be among the best, which means, at worst, he'll be an everyday starter. There are layers of major-league players. There are future Hall of Famers such as Ken Griffey Jr. There are solid everyday players such as Adam Dunn (if you don't think 40 homers and 100 RBIs a year is solid, you're wrong). There are good players who might not play every day (Ryan Freel) and there are players filling roster spots for some specialty (the Reds are full of those as pinch-hitters, fielders, catchers).
Bruce is a line-drive hitter with power and a man who will pay attention to his fielding. He will not get down if he goes into a slump, and will not allow a strikeout (he has to cut down on those) to affect his play in the field. He will be a good influence in the clubhouse.
Finally, I'm reminded about what football's Lou Holtz used to say: "If a dog will bite you, he'll bite you as a pup."
Jay Bruce could hit the first day he stepped in the batter's box for the Dragons. He hasn't stopped, and I suspect he'll continue to hit for the Reds.