Big Red Machine part two? Cincinnati's Jay Bruce is part of a core of young talent that has the makings of a powerhouse.

Posted: June 08, 2008

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.

There's more.

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.

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

EXTRA BASES

The Phillies were thrilled to get Anthony Hewitt with their first pick in the draft, but there were indications they were targeting Arizona State first baseman/outfielder Ike Davis with that pick. The Phils could still see a lot of Davis over the years. He was selected 18th overall by the Mets, six picks in front of Hewitt.

The Red Sox had a tremendous draft in 2005. They took Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen and Clay Buchholz (all big leaguers with huge upside) with their first three picks, and their next two, infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Michael Bowden, are top prospects. In that same draft, the Red Sox also took third baseman Pedro Alvarez, catcher Jason Castro and first baseman Allan Dykstra. The Sox failed to sign all three but certainly wish they had. All three went in the first round Thursday, Alvarez second overall to the Pirates, Castro 10th to the Astros and Dykstra (no relation to Lenny) 23d to the Padres. Alvarez, Castro and Dykstra are examples of players who could have been had at lower prices as high schoolers whose price went way up three years later. ... Lenny's kid, Cutter, went 54th overall, to the Brewers. He's a shortstop but probably will move to center field. ... Florida's Luis Gonzalez became only the seventh player to reach at least 350 homers and 575 doubles in his career last weekend. The others: Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr., Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro. ... The Rockies rode a magical wave, winning 21 of 22 games to make the World Series last year. Since the start of the series, when they were swept by Boston, until the start of play Friday, they were 22-42. Ouch. ... The Celtics beat the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, but that wasn't the only big sports news in Boston. The Red Sox' brawl-marred win, which completed a sweep of Tampa Bay, was a big deal, too. The Red Sox entered Friday with a 24-5 record at home. Atlanta entered Friday's game against the Phillies (in Atlanta) with a home record of 25-8. The Braves are 7-21 on the road. . . . The end of an era could be dawning in Atlanta as John Smoltz heads to the operating table for shoulder surgery Tuesday. Smoltz, 41, isn't sure whether he will try to come back next season. If this is it for Smoltz, his next stop is Cooperstown. He is the only pitcher in history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves. Smoltz holds the record for most playoff wins (15) and strikeouts (194). In 40 playoff games, 27 of them starts, Smoltz was 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA. Remarkably, two of his four losses came by scores of 1-0. He pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, famously won by Jack Morris, who delivered a 10-inning shutout for Minnesota. In Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, Smoltz pitched eight innings and allowed just an unearned run in a 1-0 loss to the Yankees' Andy Pettitte.

DRAFT CRITIQUE

Jim Callis, the respected draft analyst from Baseball America magazine, joked that the Phillies' draft seemed to be a tribute to departing general manager Pat Gillick, who always has had a thing for high-potential, athletic players with great physical tools.

The Phillies selected four high-ceiling high school players with their first four picks Thursday. They got third baseman Anthony Hewitt 24th overall, outfielder Zach Collier 34th, outfielder Anthony Gose 51st, and pitcher Jason Knapp 71st.

"I guess the key word on the Phillies' draft is intriguing," Callis said. "In terms of pure upside, I can't remember too many drafts like this. Their first four picks are classic high-upside, high-risk players. If they hit on those four guys, they could have four all-stars."

The Phils' first four picks are all considered signable. All will require lengthy minor-league gestation, and even then there are no guarantees.

Callis said Hewitt was the best athlete in the draft - and the highest risk in the first round.

"He can hit the ball 450 feet, but there are questions about his contact," Callis said. "He did not hit at all [in showcase events] last summer. Teams really started dreaming on his athleticism this season, but I don't see how 90 at-bats at a Connecticut boarding school could possibly answer the questions about his bat.

"The Philadelphia parallel I would use is Mike Mamula, who blew away everyone at the NFL combine because he was physically talented. There's a lot of risk here, but the payoff could be huge because the tools are so good."

Callis said Collier, a potential five-tool outfielder, was a steal at 34. He said Gose could become a major-league outfielder with speed and a good arm. Collier, who intends to sign, had open-heart surgery to fix a birth defect two years ago. Gose is a University of Arizona signee.

As for Knapp, a 6-foot-5 New Jersey righthander who has signed with North Carolina, Callis said, "He worked out for the Yankees last week and finished with fastballs of 97, 97, 97 and 98."

Callis said the Phils got one of the best pure college hitters in fifth-rounder Jeremy Hamilton, a first baseman from Wright State, and he said sixth-rounder Colby Shreve, a 6-5 junior-college righthander, was worth watching. Shreve was getting first-round attention before having Tommy John surgery.

"If he makes it back, he's a steal," Callis said.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|