By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our "30 Players 30 Days" spring training feature.
Jay Bruce, Outfielder, Cincinnati Reds
2011 season: 157 G, 585 AB, .256 AVG, 32 HR, 97 RBI, .814 OPS
Though he will only be turning 25 in April, Bruce has already been in the Majors for four years. During that time, he has largely lived up to the potential that once made him arguably the most-hyped of any prospect in 2008. Bruce might be overshadowed by Joey Votto, who came up with him and has risen to even greater heights, but there's nothing wrong with what the outfielder provides.
One thing that Bruce has always provided is power. In his rookie year, when he was called up midseason, he still managed to collected 21 dingers. The next season, despite hitting just .223 and missing time with injury, he popped 22 balls out of the park. Bruce's power has only grown in his most recent seasons – he recorded 25 and 32 home runs, respectively, in 2010 and 2011 – which is not surprising considering where he is developmentally.
The thing that is a bit surprising about Bruce is how he has failed to hit for average throughout his big league career; his .256 average last year is right in line with his career mark. Bruce was a .308 hitter in the minors, and it wasn't like he was just feasting on the lower levels. In fact, the opposite is true. Bruce performed as a sub-.300 hitter when he first got into pro ball, but as he matured and was promoted, he started to put up better numbers. In 104 games at AAA, he owns an impressive .332 average. A lot of that may have been luck – Bruce often got favorable outcomes on balls in play – but even so, it's hard to explain how his average has dropped so much in the bigs. Even if it never rises, though, Bruce has an exceptional eye and should continue to post strong on-base percentages because of it.
Away from the batter's box, Bruce has proven himself to be an above-average fielder and a more-than-adequate baserunner. He's got a strong arm, which likely deters opponents from trying to take an extra base against him. He also came into camp about 15 pounds lighter than he was last year, which might mean that he is quicker in the outfield and on the bases. With that said, it wouldn't be surprising if Bruce put that weight back on during the course of the season.
On the whole, Bruce has accomplished a lot already in his career, but there is still room for him to grow. He was a good player his first two years before turning himself into a great one in the past two. Now, it's time for him to take the next step forward. There used to be a player in Cincinnati who didn't hit for average but displayed great power and patience: Adam Dunn. Bruce can be a similar offensive player with solid contributions in other facets of the game as well, which would make him an MVP candidate. Considering his age and rate of improvement, 40 homers aren't out of the question this year.
Next up on March 26: Houston Astros
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