MiLB.com will be visiting each Spring Training site in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues this month to report on the most significant stories involving each club's Minor League system as players get ready for the 2008 season. We'll find out who's impressing the organization, who's hot, who's not and sit down for an exclusive Q&A with a top prospect.
Team: Cincinnati Reds
Location: Sarasota, Fla.
Date: March 6, 2008
What does Jay Bruce have to do to wrap up the center field job this spring?
As of March 6 Bruce's immediate future is still very much up in the air. Bruce could hit .500 this spring -- which, incidentally, is exactly what he did in his first five games, going 6-for-12 before being temporarily sidelined with a mild quadriceps strain -- and still potentially start the season at Triple-A Louisville.
Bruce's talent is just one part of the equation. There is little doubt he will be the starting center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds soon. Maybe very soon. The offseason trade of 2007 Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Hamilton to the Texas Rangers was ample evidence of that plan.
But is new manager Dusty Baker ready to hand the reins to a 21-year-old who has played just 66 games above Class A? Probably not, unless a perfect storm occurs where Bruce is still hitting the stuffing out of the ball three weeks from now and the other candidates (Ryan Freel, Norris Hopper, the newly-inked Corey Patterson and fellow Reds prospect Chris Dickerson, who is older and more experienced) all struggle or are traded.
"He always makes a good impression so the only question when the time comes is whether he has the experience they think is necessary to play in the big leagues," said Terry Reynolds, the Reds' director of player development. "That will be answered over the next couple of weeks."
Bruce is widely acknowledged as the top prospect in baseball right now, and rightfully so. The 2005 first-rounder out of high school in Texas hit a combined .319 with 26 homers, 46 doubles and 89 RBIs between Class A Advanced Sarasota, Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville.
"He just needs to go in and do all the things that he's done so far in his career, relax, and just play the way he can," said Reynolds. "His ability will dictate where he plays, but the other part is there has to be the opportunity. We have Freel and Hopper and guys who have established themselves as big-league players, so now it's up to the manager."
Other News of the Day
Non-roster invitee and closer prospect Josh Roenicke continues to live up to his baseball family name. He's pitched two scoreless innings in two appearances and earned one of the two saves posted by Reds pitchers so far this spring. Roenicke, a 10th-round pick out of UCLA in 2006, led the organization with 24 saves in 2007 and will likely start '08 at Chattanooga. ... Along with the regular members of Cincinnati's big-league staff, several former Reds stars are on hand to offer advice and experience to young prospects. Among those present Thursday were former outfielder George Foster, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench and more recent Reds outfielder Eric Davis. Davis, in his familiar No. 44 uniform, looked like he could step into the starting lineup right now.
Five Questions with Joey Votto
MiLB.com: You had LASIK surgery on your eyes this past offseason. How did it go and how hard a decision was it to make?
JV: I was so tired of wearing contacts and I couldn't wear the dailies because I had an astigmatism so I thought it was a good idea. I did not even blink, so to speak. I didn't even think about [possible complications]. I knew thousands and thousands of people had done it. I had it done in November and faced live pitching in January. My eyes deteriorated really quickly for some reason. My eyes were fine in the Southern League [in 2006] and I don't know what happened. But I'm glad I got it done and have moved on from there.
MiLB.com: What was the highlight of your big-league debut last year?
JV: My first real fond memory was playing at Wrigley in front of a packed house with people on top of the apartment buildings, with them in a little playoff race. And when I came in and came up to bat in the ninth inning -- my first Wrigley experience -- it just gave me chills. I really thrived on it because, to be honest with you, I really wanted to break all their hearts.
MiLB.com: Who is the most unusual character you've come across in the Minors and why?
JV: Homer Bailey. I think he's a really good guy but he does things differently. He's kind of his own person, he does his own thing. He's a cowboy. I'd never met a real cowboy before with the Wranglers and the cowboy hat.
MiLB.com: Identify anyone, past or present, that you'd like to have dinner with and why.
JV: I've always had a thing for Ted Williams. I think that would be incredible. I'm sure I wouldn't get a word in and I'd be happy with that -- just sitting there eating dinner and having a glass of wine and just listening to him go on about hitting.
MiLB.com: What is your favorite aspect of playing in the Reds organization and why?
JV: I really like the guys. I love playing with Jay [Bruce]. I love the potential that our team has. I'm optimistic and I like the idea of coming up at a time where I think that our team can really take that next step and become a winning team, a playoff team and hopefully one day become a championship team.
Third baseman Adam Rosales may have been relatively unknown when Spring Training started, but he has done more than enough to make people remember his name when he heads back to Minor League camp.
Dusty Baker, for one, will definitely remember Rosales.
"He doesn't look athletic, he just is athletic," Baker said. "He gets the job done big time. The more you're around him, the more you like him, the more he grows on you. He's in the right place at the right time."
Rosales, selected out of Western Michigan as a shortstop in the 12th round of the 2005 Draft, split the 2007 campaign between Sarasota and Chattanooga while playing first base -- not because of a lack of defensive acumen but because of a sore elbow. Now healthy, he's moved across the diamond to third base. It's his bat, however, that has people buzzing. He batted .294 at Sarasota and .278 at Chattanooga, combining for 18 homers, 79 RBIs, 41 doubles and 13 steals. In his first eight games as a non-roster invitee to Reds camp, he was hitting .333 and led the team with five runs scores.
Could this be the beginning of the end of the Reds' 11-year spring partnership with Sarasota? The two sides have been in talks about a new facility, but the Reds are also in negotiations with Goodyear, Arizona.
"Where it is right now, the Reds have entered into an exclusive negotiation with the city of Goodyear, and Goodyear has to come up with the financing to bring the Reds there," Reynolds explained. "So during that exclusive period there have been no negotiations with Sarasota."
Goodyear, just outside Phoenix, will already welcome the Cleveland Indians to a brand-new complex in 2009. If things work out with the Reds, it could become an all-Ohio double-dip.
"It would be a neat set-up for the people of Ohio," Reynolds laughed. "One-stop shopping."