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The Potential Of Jay Bruce

Heading into the season Reds right fielder Jay Bruce was being drafted in the 11th round on average.  We had him down for .269-32-91-85-8 in 560 ABs.  His actual line: .281-25-70-80-5 in 509 ABs.  He missed some time in September with an abdomen injury, and also was benched against tough lefties earlier in the season.  Projected to 560 ABs he would've hit .281-28-77-88-6, pretty close to our projection aside from RBIs.

Bruce fell a bit short of the breakout some fantasy touts predicted or hoped for, but his age 23 season was definitely his best yet.  He provided excellent 11th-round value.  In 2011 I think people will be salivating on draft day, given Bruce's obvious talent.  He could be drafted as early as the fifth round.  Will he be worth that level of speculation?

The first thing to note is that Bruce probably won't be benched much next year, having proven his ability to hit lefties.  Hit AB totals in May, June, and July suggest he'd be around 590 in a healthy, full season.  Right there you're looking at 30 home runs without any growth.

Bruce's .281 batting average may not be sustainable; Baseball HQ's xBA stat had him at .260.  His 26.7% strikeout rate was on the high side, 25th in baseball among those with 400+ PAs.

We mentioned the 30 home run potential.  This year 15 of Bruce's home runs came in his final 133 ABs.  That's a ridiculous rate, but it was only two months.  It's enough to hint that Bruce could be a 40 home run player in 2011 though.

In the RBI department keep in mind he spent 48% of his plate appearances in the #6 spot in the lineup and 40% in the #5 spot.  Assuming the Reds don't bring in a big name to play left field, I could see Bruce find more of a permanent home at #5 behind Joey Votto and Scott Rolen.  That means more RBIs.

Bruce attempted nine steals and found success on only five.  Compared to how many times he was on first base, he really didn't attempt many steals.  He may get a few extra swipes by improving his success rate, but he's not a 10 steal guy unless something changes.  Sometimes a player just decides to run more, but don't count on steals from Bruce.

Entirely using gut feel, I'd put Bruce down for something like .270-35-100-90-5 next year.  Not too many players hit 35 homers these days, and the steals help.  Even without a massive breakout type campaign, Bruce's power numbers should make him a top 10 fantasy outfielder in the vein of Vladimir Guerrero or Corey Hart this year.  I'm intrigued enough to say a fifth or sixth round selection is justified.

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