CINCINNATI -- The anticipation for Jay Bruce has been palpable since the day the Reds sent him out of Spring Training to get more seasoning in Triple-A -- probably even before that. The Reds, who entered Tuesday with a 23-28 record and were mired in the National League Central basement, have needed a shot in the arm. Fans have been itching to get into a tizzy over the next big thing. And writers have been speculating about his arrival for months. Now, here he is.
Cincinnati's management doesn't view Bruce as a knight in shining red armor, nor a redeemer for a losing season. As of right now, they're trying to view him as only their new starting center fielder. "No, he's not the savior," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We just want him to be himself. Just let him play and be himself. Don't put any labels on him. No comparisons. Just let him play. You can't help what people put on you or what people say. The only thing you can control is how you play. He's a confident young man. He's a bright young man and a competitive young man." "He's just another part or piece of the team that we need to build on, not only for this year, but the future," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "I hope people aren't expecting him to lead us. Whatever he does is going to be positive, but I don't think we should think of him as a savior. It's a little much to ask of a young guy." From Pete Rose and Johnny Bench in the 1960s to Don Gullett in the 1970s to Barry Larkin in the 1980s to Homer Bailey last year and Johnny Cueto this year, the Reds have seen highly anticipated homegrown products finally rise to the top before. Bruce received a standing ovation during his first big league plate appearance, with several fans shouting "Bruuuuce," before he drew a walk. Bruce, the organization's top Draft pick in 2005 (12th overall) and rated 2008's best prospect in all of baseball, is coming to town to with his eyes open. The Texas native is fully aware that people expect a lot. "I've seen some stuff," Bruce said calmly. "People are going to want to see certain things. People are going to love it. People are going to hate it. Regardless, I have to take care of my business and let them make their decision." Ken Griffey Jr.'s locker is a few over from Bruce's new address. Griffey surveyed the entrance of writers from a clubhouse chair. "The average age on this team just went down," joked the 38-year-old Griffey, a former overall No. 1 Draft pick of the Mariners that was rightly considered a savior for Seattle when he debuted in 1989. Bruce has plenty of company in a clubhouse that's definitely gravitated towards younger players. First baseman Joey Votto and pitcher Edinson Volquez started the season in Cincinnati. Shortstop Paul Janish was a recent callup from Louisville. If a new Reds era hasn't started yet already, it's about to. "We wanted to make sure when Jay gets up here, he's ready to go," Jocketty said. "He should have a long, successful career here. We're seeing what Votto has done, and Janish. The young guys that have come up have produced here and we hope to continue that movement." Bruce was batting .364 average with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs at Louisville when the club announced his promotion on Monday. Votto, who came up for the first time last September, is close friends with Bruce and frequently talked with him on the phone this season. "As well as he was hitting in the Minors, you hope that translates up here," Votto said. "He's another productive body that can help us out and help us get some wins. It will be a perfect situation for Jay. It doesn't matter who comes up here, as long as it helps the team ... but I get the feeling that he will help. "Jay's considered the ultimate prospect. He was No. 1 and all that. I really wasn't considered a prospect at his level. Jay's got a lot of weight on his shoulders. He's got a big responsibility. I really can't compare him and I because we're three years different. He's coming up at 21 years old. I came up at 23. It's two different players. I think he's going to come up and play well but he has a lot to learn just like us all." Baker wrote Bruce's name into the lineup's second spot for the series opener vs. the Pirates. The club's other center fielders, Corey Patterson and Ryan Freel, often batted leadoff. On Tuesday, Jerry Hairston Jr. batted leadoff. Bruce often batted in the third spot during his Minor League career. "I didn't want to put that pressure on him to lead off," Baker said. "The third spot right now belongs to Junior. The fourth spot belongs to [Brandon] Phillips. The fifth spot belongs to [Adam] Dunn. Junior has 20 years of batting third. Just bide your time and learn everything. It will work out sooner or later."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.