Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jay Bruce

I thought today it would be a good idea to look at a pitcher, but I couldn't determine which one I really wanted to write about, so I decided to go with Jay Bruce instead. When it comes to writing about players I don't have a preference for writing about pitchers or position players, but lately I haven't found too many pitchers I'm really interested in. If you have a pitcher you would like me to spend some time on tomorrow, let me know and I'll see what I can come up with. It could be a guy still in the minors, or even a guy in the majors. I know I've had a few requests already, but I'm either still thinking about some of those guys or undecided. So let me know what you think.

Anyways, on to Jay Bruce.

This time last year Bruce was getting a bit of attention, but he was severely overshadowed by the likes of Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin. But with Upton and Maybin both seeing time in the majors and Bruce putting up a tremendous '07 season, the attention from prospectors seems to have turned. Here's a quick breakdown of Bruce's first 2 full years in professional ball through 2006:

18, Rk .257/.358/.457
18, Rk .270/.331/.500
19, A .291/.355/.516

If you had asked me what I thought about Bruce after his time in A ball, I would have had some good things to say, but I don't think I would have projected him as the #1 prospect going into 2008. His numbers seemed fairly consistent at every level, with a high K rate, good power, and a little bit of speed. I would have probably expressed some concerns about his plate discipline, ability to make consistent contact, etc etc. Hopefully, the one stat that would have stuck out like a sore thumb would have been Bruce's 42 doubles in 444 AB's. If you tack on his 16 HRs and 5 3B's that gives you 63 extra base hits out of a total of 129 hits, which is pretty impressive. To give you an idea of what stats like that mean, Ryan Braun had 26 XBHs out of 54 total hits in 154 AB's in A ball as a 21 year old.

Going into 2007, I probably would have said something along the lines of, "If Bruce can reduce his K rate or learn to make more consistent contact, he could really take it to the next level." At least I hope I would have said that. Either way, Bruce did turn it up a notch this year, mostly by making more consistent contact.

20, A+ .325/.379/.586
20, AA .333/.405/.652
20, AAA .305/.358/.567

A large portion of Bruce's improvements came against left handed pitchers, improving his average against lefties by almost 60 points between 2006 and 2007. He still struck out a lot, but picking up on left handed pitching gave him a lot more opportunities to put the ball in play and boost both his OBP and SLG numbers. Usually a big jump in OBP like Bruce had comes at the expense of power for young hitters (see Jeff Franceour) but throughout 2007 Bruce kept up his XBH rate, with 80 XBHs out of 166 total hits. Consistent output like that tells me that Bruce won't have to make many changes in his swing as he moves up to the big leagues to keep up both his power and contact numbers, and it also makes me worry less about his BB and K rates. Some guys are better off just letting it rip and not worrying about drawing walks, and I think Bruce is one of those types. As Hank Aaron said, "The pitcher has got only a ball. I've got a bat. So the percentage in weapons is in my favor and I let the fellow with the ball do the fretting."

With 186 ABs in AAA ball, I fell comfortable using Bruce's .305/.358/.567 stat line to make some comparisons to other players performances at AAA. Here's a quick list and you can decide for yourself which one you think Bruce is closest to:

Age, AAA Stat Line

Ryan Braun
23, .342/.418/.701

David Wright
21, .298/.388/.579

Prince Fielder
21, .291/.388/.569

Billy Butler
21, .291/.412/.542

Grady Sizemore
21, .287/.360/.438

So where does Bruce fit in? Taking into account his age and experience level, I'd put him somewhere close to Fielder, Braun and Wright in terms of power, and probably just behind Braun and Wright in terms of contact as well. I think he'll be as good as all the guys on the above list in terms of overall offense, and defensively he'll definitely be better than at least 3 of those guys.

On a side note, when Bruce finally gets the call up to the major league team, expect his numbers to drop by about 50-100 points in overall OPS. Every guy on the above list took a similar dive in production during their first year in the majors, including Ryan Braun. When it happens, don't be alarmed. Just take the opportunity to buy up some nice auto cards and wait out the price dip. Bruce is a very hard worker and doesn't seem to get caught up in all the hype surrounding him, so whatever dry spells he encounters, I expect he'll work his way out of them and be better for it. I'm very high on Bruce, but I would advise against spending much money on him right now. It's not likely that his stats will go much higher before he spends some time in the majors, but he's a solid buy and a great long term hold if you have him in your collection.

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