Bruce Wins First Silver Slugger Award
There were a lot of expectations heaped on Jay Bruce since the Reds' 2005 first rounder made his debut in 2007. Though he hasn't put together a monster breakout season he's shown gradual improvement each year and is now a Silver Slugger. He's still only 25 yrs old giving fans good reason to believe he will continue climb in the status of an elite MLB outfielder.
Jay Bruce is coming off a season with career bests 34 HR/99 RBI and announcements yesterday informed that offensive production earned his first Silver Slugger Award. He is only the third Red to win such an award since Barry Larkin in 1999, the other two being teammate Brandon Phillips last year and Felipe Lopez in 2005. He is also the first Reds outfielder to receive this honor since Eric Davis in 1989.
There have been great expectations of Bruce from Reds fans since the 2005 first round selection made his debut in 2008 with thirteen hits and a couple of homers in his first twenty-two MLB at-bats. He’s now completed his fifth season and it’s easy to forget that he’s only 25 years old. Though he has yet to put up an unmistakable breakout season, he’s still managed gradual increases to this HR/RBI totals each season of his career. His 34 long-balls in 2012 placed him in the top three in the NL and he was selected to the All Star team for the second time. He also leads all active players 25 years old and under with 134 career homers.
Often Bruce’s performance could be described as “hot and cold”. He’s been notorious for torrid streaks battering opposing pitching only to cool down for prolonged slumps. If year-to-year increases are an indication, Reds fans can expect him to get better with age at this point in his career as he improves consistency. His contribution to team success doesn’t stop at the plate as he defense in right field made him a finalist for a gold glove. Many Cincinnati fans believe that it’s only a matter of time before gold will join the silver now headed to his trophy collection.
Other Reds contenders for the award were second baseman Brandon Phillips and pitcher Mike Leake. Phillips was denied his second consecutive Silver Slugger by Aaron Hill who hit over .300 with 26 HR for the Diamondbacks. Pitchers are not often recognized for their offensive contribution, but the Stephen Strasburg was one of three Nationals to bring home silver this year. Leake has been a good hitter since his MLB debut directly out of college three seasons ago and finished 2012 with a .297 average and a couple of home runs in 61 AB, statistically topping Strasburg’s .277/1/47.
The Reds are coming off a successful 97-win season mainly driven by a strong defense and a pitching staff that tied Washington for the lowest ERA in the N.L. The ERA accomplishment is even more impressive when considering they play half their games in one of the more hitter-friendly venues in the league. The offense was frustrating at times but did come together by the end of the season and finished around the middle of the NL pack in runs scored. As they look to maintain and improve upon that performance they have three building blocks in Bruce, Phillips, and 2010 MVP Joey Votto. All three stars currently have contracts that keep them under team control through the next five seasons.
Reliever Bill Bray and infielder Wilson Valdez both declined outright assignments and elected to become free agents. Neither one of those decisions is a big surprise. The oft-injured Bray had been in the Reds system since coming over in a high-visibility midseason trade with Washington and former Reds GM Jim Bowden in 2006. He was coming off the best season of his career in 2011 when he stayed healthy, took over a lefty specialist role and kept an ERA below three in 79 appearances. That was the most action he’d seen since putting together a solid campaign in 2008. This season the injury bug returned and limited his action to nine ineffective innings.
Valdez was picked up before the start of the season for minor league reliever Jeremy Horst to provide veteran depth at shortstop. He held off 2011 regular Paul Janish to secure a utility infielder spot on the opening day roster and kept that job the entire season. The 34 year-old finished with a .206 average in around two hundred at-bats. After the removal of several players from their 2010 AAA roster one year ago from trades and promotions one area where the Reds kept top prospects was the middle infield. Two of them, Didi Gregorius and Henry Rodriguez had MLB debuts after roster expansion this season. Both figure to be candidates to take over reserve roles with the parent team that were occupied by Valdez and free agent Miguel Cairo.