LIVINGSTONE: He’s marching into his fifth season with the Cincinnati Reds, and despite his biggest year at the plate last season, OF Jay Bruce is poised to make more noise than he ever has before, and vault him into the National League elite – and, per my prediction – the league homerun crown.
Looking at ESPN’s statistics on what stadiums are most hitter-friendly, Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati ranks the third most-friendly to hitters (1.314) behind Coors Field (1.354) and The Ball Park in Arlington (1.500). The advantage to hitters who play 82 games a season is obvious, looking at Bruce’s numbers over the past four years (see baseball-reference.com). Hitting with the likes of Brandon Phillips, and perennial first baseman Joey Votto, along with Drew Stubbs and Ryan Ludwick, Bruce has the opportunity to capitalize on a line-up ripe with strong bats, forcing pitchers to pitch to him, rather than around him.
This all said – Bruce had a big year last and some would argue my pick for breakout player, well, he’s already broken out. He hit .252, 33 HR and 97 RBI last season. However, he struck out twice as much (158) than he walked (71) and his average dipped 25 points from his career-high in 2010 (.281).
There is a lack of plate discipline there, something it seems he’s worked on over the winter and through spring training. If he can shave down his strikeout total, and avoid swinging at pitches out of the zone, Bruce has the potential, tied in with the bats around him, to bring his average up and add to his round-trip total this year. He only bagged 26 doubles last season, a number that could easily rise close to 40 if he’s patient.
And let’s not forget what division Bruce plays in. the Central is seemingly weaker this year than it has been the last couple of years, especially with teams like Pittsburgh and Houston settling into a long year battling it out for last (who are we kidding – the Astros will finish dead last – in the league). Minute Maid Park in Houston and Wrigley Field will prove advantageous to Bruce, however, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Busch Stadium in St. Louis will favour pitchers over hitters, so this potential advantage might be a wash.
Regardless, Bruce is in for a big year and I think he’s got serious potential to hit .290 or higher, as long as he can show some plate discipline, and pop for 40 HR – or more. I think come September, Bruce will be in the thick of the homerun race.