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04/18/2005 12:28 PM ET
Reds prospect makes debut at last
First-round pick making way back from injury
Cincinnati's 2004 first-round pick, Homer Bailey, is 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA in his last five outings for Dayton. (David Kohl/AP)

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DAYTON, Ohio -- A first-round draft pick, particularly one who was taken in the top 10, should have a certain amount of confidence, almost arrogance that he knows what's best for him.

There does need, however, to be a balance between that edge and being a good soldier, doing the things the organization asks of you in order to move up the ladder.

Right now, it seems like Reds' 2004 top pick Homer Bailey is struggling to find that balance.

Bailey finally made his 2005 debut on Friday after having his initial outing pushed back as he dealt with a minor injury. Had it been up to him, he would have already made his first Midwest League appearance, but in this case he understands the need for caution.

"It's totally understandable," Bailey said. "Ask any player when put in that situation and they'd want to get out on the field. But you have to understand where the organization is coming from with this type of deal."

Where the organization is coming from is a large group of highly touted, top-round pitching draftees who haven't exactly panned out. Ty Howington was the Reds' top pick in 1999 and has suffered through a series of injuries that have kept him from getting past Double-A. Chris Gruler was taken as the third overall pick in 2002 and he'd thrown a total of 77 2/3 innings in his Minor League career through the 2004 season. Even later picks, like 2001 seventh-rounder Bobby Basham, have missed considerable time due to injury.

"I think that's why they took such extreme measures with a little injury like that," Bailey said.

While Bailey has gone along with the organization's cautious wishes, he hasn't seen eye to eye with their designs for his conditioning program. He's butted heads with folks in Dayton about what he'd like to do off the field. Bailey admits his regimen is a little unorthodox, including some weight lifting techniques that aren't seemingly baseball-minded. It's a system he feels got him to where he is now and built him into a first-round talent.

"I challenged our strength guy," Bailey said. "I told him give me one month, let me do my own thing. If you're not seeing results and I'm not getting stronger, then I'll do everything they say.

"Unfortunately, they didn't accept that challenge. I don't think it's reached anybody above him yet. I was willing to do that. I'm always ready for a challenge. If I believe in what I do, then why back down from it?"

Much of the battle about his workouts will likely die down once he can get into the routine of pitching for Dayton. Bailey's polish, power and maturity on the mound are all attributes that made the Reds comfortable in giving him the organization's second-largest signing bonus in history. Once he's able to show that regularly, arguments over what he should be lifting and when he should be running will become secondary.

Judging from that disagreement, it'd be easy to assume Bailey wouldn't be too thrilled with the pitching schedule he'll be on while he's with Dayton. The Reds use an eight-man tandem rotation for their Class A affiliate, meaning Bailey will pitch every four days on a very strict 75-pitch count. But Bailey merely shrugged, another example of him being willing to go along with what he's told.

"I know it's something [Reds general manager Dan] O'Brien has had success with and a lot of other clubs are going to it," Bailey said. "I'm not real familiar with it. I don't disagree with it. It's just something new, going every fourth day as opposed to throwing once a week, it's different. But if this is what they believe will work and will help me pursue my dream of getting to the big leagues, then I have to follow it."

That's the ultimate goal for everyone involved, of course. And there is a certain amount of pressure for first-rounders everywhere to perform up to expectations. Throw in the Reds' past misses and the spotlight might be shining even brighter on the 18-year-old from LaGrange, Texas. This is where the self-confidence comes in handy. Bailey likes to fancy himself just one of the guys, though he knows the eyes of people outside of the team will be on him more than others. He's prepared for it, though he may need a little work on his fan outreach skills.

"I feel like I'm just another member of the Dragons most of the time until I get to the field and you have all the autographs and stuff," Bailey said. "I try to avoid that when I can. I'd rather just come to the field, play the game, watch the game, do the jobs I have to do, then get out."

Bailey clearly feels that if he does those jobs well, he'll move up the Reds' ladder as quickly as everyone hopes. This is where his confidence/arrogance meets his willingness to put his career in other's hands head on. Remarkably, he seems to be able to live in both worlds comfortably as he begins his first full professional season.

"I want to put pressure on them to keep me down," Bailey said. "What I mean by that, I want to be so successful that they're keeping me down because of my age.

"I have to put my trust in them that when they say it's time for me to go up, it's time for me to go up. I want to go out there and be successful on the mound to put pressure on them to keep me down."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.