CINCINNATI -- It was an overhand pitch to a kid still wearing diapers, and Jay Bruce swatted it with a sweet, perfect stroke. That's when Joe Bruce knew his son was something special. "He didn't even grab the bat cross-handed, like I thought he would," Joe Bruce recalled of the day he introduced Jay to baseball. "He grabbed it just right. From that day on, he just had an eye for the ball, and he hasn't stopped yet."
Indeed, Jay Bruce is not one to waste time when it comes to baseball development. It should come as no surprise, then, that on Friday -- just three days after becoming the No. 12 overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft -- Bruce, the 18-year-old center fielder from West Brook (Beaumont, Texas) High School, had signed with the Reds and was ready to begin his professional career. "We just got done," Bruce announced to a crowd of reporters and cameramen in the bowels of Great American Ball Park on Friday afternoon. "I'm ready to play." Terry Reynolds, the Reds' director of amateur scouting, was on hand to help Bruce slip into his jersey -- Danny Graves' former No. 32, for those scoring at home. What Reynolds sees in the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Bruce, beyond the "five-tool" label he slapped on him earlier this week, is a confidence in his abilities. Bruce's quick, no-haggle signing, in which he received a $1.8 million bonus, proved that, Reynolds said. "The players who aren't really confident in themselves drag things on and want a lot of guarantees," Reynolds said. "Here we are, three days after the draft, and he's ready to go. I think that says all you need to say about him and his family and his desire to be a pro baseball player." That desire will land him in Sarasota, Fla., with the Reds' Gulf Coast League rookie team next week. "The only way you can get to the big leagues is to play," Bruce said. "It's a long road, and I'm going to do all I can do to get there." On the road to this point, Bruce has been emulating his baseball idol, Ken Griffey Jr. His dad even recalled a time when Jay was 12 years old and tried to track Junior down with a phone number he found online. "Our phone bill was pretty high," Joe said with a smile. Jay can repay it now. What's more, he didn't need to dial long distance to reach Griffey on this day. On a tour of the ballpark, he got the chance to walk through the Reds' clubhouse and meet his hero in person. "When he gets up [to the big leagues]," Griffey said, pointing to Bruce, "I'm taking it to the house. Or maybe I'll play one of the corner [outfield] spots." That's another story for another time, though. For now, Bruce's focus is very much on the present. "This has been my dream all along," he said. "I've been looking forward to getting my pro career started." In an age of bonus holdouts, Bruce's quick turnaround was a refreshing change of pace. He was once linked to agent Scott Boras, but he joined forces with Toby Trotter this past winter and upped his so-called "signability" -- always a thing of beauty to a small-market organization such as the Reds. "In the business of baseball, teams don't want to waste any time or waste any picks or waste an evaluation or anything like that," Trotter said. "Honesty in the business equates to dollars for the player in the end." Though he had a full scholarship to Tulane University sitting on the table, Bruce made it clear to the Reds and other organizations taking a look at him that he was ready to go pro. It's a decision his family fully supported. "We discussed it as a family many nights," Joe Bruce said. "But we left the decision up to him. He always wanted to play. This way, he has the best of both worlds. He can go to school when his pro career is over." If a father's early premonition and a son's obvious desire are any indication, Bruce's career should last quite a while.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.