January 6, 2008 7:36 PM
In 2005, the Reds drafted Jay Bruce in the first round (12th overall). This pick raised many eyebrows and questions, why did a team full of outfielders draft one? Have you seen our pitching staff? Fast forward to 2008, we now see Jay Bruce as a pivotal part of the Reds' future.
What do Jose Canseco, Manny Ramirez, and Derek Jeter have in common? They were all named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in their final year of minor league ball. Baseball America honored Jay Bruce with the award this past season. If you look at his numbers, you'll see why. Bruce played at all three major levels this year. At Single-A Sarasota, Bruce hit .325 with 11 homeruns and 49 RBI in 67 games. He was then promoted to Double-AA Chattanooga, where he only played in 16 games before being promoted to Triple-A Louisville. While playing for the River Bats, Bruce hit .305 with 11 homeruns and 25 RBI. Add it all up, Bruce hit 26 homeruns with 89 RBI, on three different levels. This success shouldn't come as a surprise, in 2006 Bruce was named Low-A player of the year while playing for the Dayton Dragons. That year he smashed 16 homeruns while driving in 80.
We know he can hit, but is there room for him? The answer is a big yes. The Josh Hamilton deal opened up a spot in the outfield for the 20-year old, not to mention improve the pitching staff (sounds like a smart draft choice, huh?). Despite trading Josh Hamilton, the outfield remains pretty crowded. Adam Dunn will roam left, Griffey will patrol right, and there will be a battle for center between Bruce, Ryan Freel, and Norris Hopper. Freel and Hopper both provide great contact and speed, but Bruce replaces the power that was lost with Hamilton.
The up-size on Jay Bruce is tremendous. He won't be celebrating his 21st birthday until April, with opening day being played a day before his birthday. How much playing time Bruce will see is obviously up to Dusty Baker, and a lot will depend on how Bruce performs in Spring Training this year. With the crowd in center field, Baker will not feel a need to rush him at such a young age. However, Reds fans can only wait to see if all the hype will translate into big league success.