Opening Day is still four weeks away but the talk has already begun in Cincinnati about how good can this team be. There are many questions left to be answered between now and April 5th. Will the starting rotation live up to the hype that a lot are giving it even without Edinson Volquez? Who will fill that fifth spot in the rotation? Will Aroldis Chapman make the team out of spring training and will he live up to the hype surrounding him? Will Scott Rolen fill in nicely as the full-time third baseman this year and as a mentor to some of the younger guys coming up? Who will start in left field? Center field? And so on. But one of the more pressing questions facing the team is will the once considered phenom, Jay Bruce, have a bounce back year and finally come into his own? With the way things look early on in spring training, the answer to that question very well could be yes.
Bruce missed almost 60 games last season after breaking his right wrist diving to catch a ball. Before the injury he wasn't having a stellar season with the bat and finished the season batting a disappointing .223 with 22 home runs and just 58 RBIs. Bruce almighty, not so much. However, on a positive note, after coming back from the disabled list, Bruce caught fire and over his last 18 games he hit .326 with four home runs and 17 RBIs. Ending the season in that way gave Reds' fans hope for the 2010 season.
That hope has carried over into spring training where fans have seen Bruce continue to hit. In seven games he is hitting .357 and has one home run. Like most of the rest of the lineup for the Reds, Bruce always seemed to be trying to do to much at the plate rather than just concentrating on getting the bat on the ball. With inconsistent hitting in the lineup from top to bottom, with the exception of Joey Votto when healthy, everyone seemed to try to push too hard, including Bruce. With the adjustments he made at the end of last season, Bruce is attempting to become a more complete hitter, not trying to step up to the plate and hit a four-run homerun every time.
In order for this team to succeed, guys like Bruce need to become more consistent. At 23 years old, a lot of pressure is resting on the shoulders of #32. Bruce was looked at as being the guy to replace Adam Dunn once he was traded off to Arizona a couple years ago. The thought was that he had a better overall skill set than Dunn. He didn't have as much power, but he could hit for average and had a little pop in the bat while being able to play decent defense in the outfield. The way last season went, it was hard to tell that this guy was supposed to be one of the next big things in the game. The one two punch that was to be of Bruce and Votto didn't come to be as most thought it might last season. With the way things are looking for Bruce early on in spring training, there's reason to believe that maybe, just maybe this is the year he truly arrives in the big leagues. Yes, its only spring training and where they play out in Arizona does favor hitters, if a guy can hit, he can hit. It doesn't matter what part of the country he's playing in.
While there are many questions still to be answered leading up to Opening Day, one thing is for sure; Bruce has the skills to be one of the most consistent and feared hitters in the game. The National League Central is wide open this year. If the Reds are going to compete for the division title this year, they are going to need Bruce to be the player they thought he would be when he arrived on the scene a couple years ago. His new found patience at the plate could turn him into just that player.