On Baseball: Big Red Machine part two?
By Jim Salisbury
Inquirer Baseball Columnist
The Cincinnati Reds left Philadelphia on Thursday in last place in the National League Central.
They won't be there next year at this time.
The Reds have a terrific core of young talent, and we saw much of it last week at Citizens Bank Park.
There was 24-year-old righthander Edinson Volquez, who shut out the Phillies for seven innings Wednesday night, lowering his major-league-best earned run average to 1.32.
There was 24-year-old first baseman Joey Votto, who drove in both runs in that 2-0 Cincinnati win.
There was 22-year-old righthander Homer Bailey, a potential star who started against the Phils on Thursday.
The Reds' roster also includes 26-year-old second baseman Brandon Phillips, who belted 30 homers and drove in 94 runs last season; 25-year-old third baseman Edwin Encarnacion; and 22-year-old righthander Johnny Cueto, who struck out 10 in his major-league debut in April.
The Reds' crop of young talent includes 21-year-old outfielder Jay Bruce, who entered this season widely hailed as the top prospect in the game. He backed up that ranking by hitting .364 with 10 homers, 37 RBIs and a .630 slugging percentage in 49 games at triple A before being called to the majors two weeks ago.
Bruce reached base in his first six big-league plate appearances - he was the first player to do that since Boston's Ted Cox reached base in his first seven in 1977 - and was hitting .552 after his first eight games. He tailed off to .432 after 10 games, with three doubles, three homers and seven RBIs.
"He's a tremendous talent," Reds manager Dusty Baker said with a hint of understatement.
Bruce hits from the left side and has drawn comparisons to Larry Walker and Ken Griffey Jr.
Sometimes it's neat how things work out in baseball. Bruce grew up idolizing Griffey. Now he is Griffey's teammate, Griffey's heir apparent in the Reds' outfield and on the marquee outside Great American Ball Park.
As a 9-year-old in Beaumont, Texas, Bruce was such a big Griffey fan that he called the Kingdome, then Griffey's home with the Seattle Mariners, and asked to speak to the slugger. The switchboard operator didn't have a sense of humor, and the call didn't get through.
"It's a true story," Bruce confirmed with a smile and a laugh during his visit to Philadelphia.
As for being compared with Griffey, Bruce, who needs 596 homers to catch the future Hall of Famer, would rather not go there.
"It's flattering," he said. "But there's only one Ken Griffey Jr."
There has been such a buzz around Bruce's arrival in the majors that he's almost overshadowed Griffey's quest for home run No. 600.
Bruce doesn't see it that way, though.
"You can't take that away from Ken Griffey," Bruce said. "You saw it Tuesday night when the crowd went nuts when he pinch-hit against 'Flash' Gordon. For them to do that in Philly, where they have some of the toughest fans in baseball from what I hear - that speaks volumes. You're not going to steal the spotlight away from Ken Griffey Jr. No way."
OK, but there's no denying that Bruce has created some electricity. During his visit here, he was interviewed by reporters from The Inquirer, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.
It's heady stuff, but Baker doesn't believe it ever will go to Bruce's head.
"He's a very nice, good-spirited young man, cordial and polite," Baker said. "You can tell he was raised properly. I'd be very surprised if he ever changed or had a humility change like I've seen some have."
(That actually happens a lot in baseball.)
Baker loves what he sees of Bruce as a hitter. He has since spring training.
It starts in the feet.
"He's got nice slow feet at the plate," Baker said. "He doesn't jump at the ball. He's got great balance. And he's very confident. His focus and concentration at the plate are excellent."
Bruce was the Reds' No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft. As a 14-year-old, he was coached by Doug Drabek, the former National League Cy Young winner and father of Phillies pitching prospect Kyle Drabek. Kyle was the Phils' No. 1 pick in 2006 and is rehabilitating his right elbow after Tommy John surgery.
"Kyle's got some great stuff," Bruce said. "He always stood out. His upside when it comes to pitching is high."
Though he is the cornerstone of the Reds' future, Bruce sees himself as just a piece of the puzzle. Still, he acknowledged that the future appears bright for the Reds.
"We've got all the right parts to start with, for sure," he said.