Those who are relatively new to the site may have seen the top 100 Reds list on the left-hand sidebar and wonder how and why and when it got there. How: Slyde has magic internet skillz; Why: I wrote a series listing out these top 100; When: this time last year. If you weren't around at the time, it was some of the most brilliantly lucid writing seen since F. Scott Fitzgerald. Those who were around and actually read the stuff, please don't ruin the illusion for the new guys, OK?
Lists are great props for a writer because: a) they practically write themselves; and b) they need future updating which perpetuates the whole writing itself theme. This week will present five updates to the top 100 series, although some of the updates will be honorable mentions for players not quite elevated to this mythical status.
I wrote at the conclusion of last year's lengthy series that the Reds were entrenched in the 2nd worst stretch in franchise history, and that past Cincy teams only broke out of the doldrums on the backs of players emerging into greatness. It's never obvious or inevitable in the moment, but here we are...updating a list for the list's sake, but also to take our moment to say "woo-hoo". It is morning in Cincinnati once more.
Honorable Mention: Jay Bruce
To say I am giddy about the prospects of the Jay Bruce era is a gross understatement. He'll turn 24 sometime around Opening Day next year, has 68 round trippers notched on his belt already, is without a doubt the established right fielder, is showing steady improvement, and was the third best player on 2010's division-winning team. Word.
Every now and again, however, I'll cast a critical eye towards Bruce, remembering his prior top prospect status, while observing that until this year Bruce's hitting has been sub-par for a right fielder. This criticism is admittedly unfair. Most young players take time to adjust to the league, and while Bruce has had his struggles, he's still brought value to the team.
I find player comps intriguing. I like the idea that over 120-some years of past baseball history, there are volumes of names attached to stat lines and career paths that may present clues as to how modern players' careers will play out. If these comps were an iron-clad guarantee, we would hardly bother to watch the games, but far too often to ignore, the numbers go up and down in a familiar pattern. Like cigarette smoke rising towards the ceiling, the numbers move to and fro in a chaotic fashion, while maintaining a general shape as though they, too, are bound by the rules of the physical world.
Dan Szymborski writes the ZIPS projections at baseballthinkfactory.org, and they're annually among the best projections available. That he projects Jay Bruce for a 2011 season similar to the one he had in 2010 is of note, but what I like from Dan's projections are the three top player comps he lists for each player. Jay Bruce is tied-statistically speaking-to Dave Clark, Danny Tartabull, and Jesse Barfield. I must be frank: I have no idea why Clark compares, but the other two make some sense. Their careers started young, they didn't play full seasons right away, and each showed significant improvement in his third season. While neither player became dominant, or a Hall of Famer, each did have a very nice peak, spending a season or two where he was one of the AL's top 10 players. If that's the mean expectation, that's pretty good. So here's where I get giddy: first, Jay Bruce missed 50 games of development time to a broken wrist last year. I figure his true talent level is above what's demonstrated by these two comp lines. Secondly, Jay Bruce plays right field like a center fielder. His arm is not what Barfield's was, but the man can cover turf. For a team that will typically struggle to attract front-line pitching on the free agent market, outstanding defense is a must, and Bruce has it in spades.
Via the strength of his 2010 season, Jay Bruce's young career ranks somewhere around #205 on my list of all-time Reds. He's probably two years away from cracking the top 100, although with a near-MVP season in 2011, it could happen in one.