Jay Bruce was drafted out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds 12th overall way back in 2005. The outfield prospect quickly made good on that selection, staying on the prospect radar from the moment he was drafted throughout his minor-league career. He showed an intriguing combination of athleticism, arm strength and power that made him one of the top prospects in all of baseball. In fact, prior to his major-league debut season of 2008, Bruce was named the top prospect in all of baseball here at Baseball Prospectus as well as at Baseball America. The sky was the limit, as they say.
Once Bruce debuted, he entered an area that can only be occupied by a former top prospect. He was a very good and useful player, but he didn’t quite live up to the hype. Anytime you are a No. 1 prospect in baseball you are, fairly or unfairly (read: unfairly) considered to be superstar or bust. Bruce made the mistake of just being an above-average regular. Through the lens of a former No. 1 prospect, he wasn’t all that impressive. Through the lens of a typical ballplayer, the lefty had an outstanding 20s, all spent with the Reds. He stayed in the middle of their lineup for almost a decade, earning himself three All-Star appearances, a couple of Silver Sluggers and a couple of appearances in the top-10 of MVP voting. That’s a hell of a way to start a career, regardless of expectations.
Either way, in 2016 the end of his time in Cincinnati was coming. With the Reds in full rebuild mode and Bruce entering the second half of his career, it was time for a change. At the trade deadline a season ago, he was sent to the Mets for their playoff run. He’d stay there through the offseason, but then the Mets unexpectedly struggled, leading to another trade this year. That brings us to today, when he’s with Cleveland as they try to advance to their second straight ALCS.
What Went Right in 2017
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Really, it was a fairly typical year for Bruce in terms of what went right. If you rostered him on your fantasy team, you got exactly what you expected. That is, you got some damn dingers. Bruce is far from a perfect hitter, but what he doesn’t do well is generally made up for by those long balls. In 2017, despite spending a large chunk of his season in a pitcher’s park, he smacked a career-high 36 home runs with 101 RBIs. While the league had a big home-run spike, this really wasn’t a huge jump for Bruce, who had four 30-homer years prior to 2017. He did make a bit of an adjustment, though, hitting the ball in the air more than ever before.
In addition to the power jump, Bruce also showed off a bit better plate discipline in 2017, at least compared to recent seasons. His 9.2 walk rate was his highest since 2012. This might not be entirely sustainable, but he was a bit more patient at the plate this year, particularly on pitches out of the zone.
What Went Wrong in 2017
Just like the things that went right for Bruce, the things that went wrong were fairly consistent with the rest of his career, too. While fantasy owners got the high-end power they were looking for, they didn’t get the high-end AVG they were hoping would could out of nowhere. His .254 AVG was actually his highest since 2013, but it isn’t exactly a strength. His strikeout rate isn’t great, but at 22 percent it’s not exactly a back-breaker in today’s game. The real issue for Bruce, instead, is his results on balls in play. He hasn’t posted a BABIP over .300 since 2013, and the shift is a large reason why. This past year, according to FanGraphs’ shifting data, Bruce was shifted more than all but three players in baseball.
Outlook for 2018 and the Great Beyond
Bruce will be entering his age-31 season next year, which means that his prime is coming to a close. It does not, however, mean he will be out of his prime. Since he’s a free agent at the end of this season, there is still some question as to what exactly we can expect in 2018. That being said, the baseline is exactly what Bruce has been for years now. A low (but not killer) AVG to go with high home-run and RBI totals. He won’t carry your team, but he’ll be a hell of a help to the roster. As for the Great Beyond, well, he’s not a big asset long-term. On the other hand, if you’re in a dynasty league and have a window to win in the next three years, he could be the kind of addition to help put your team over the hump. Even better, he’s not the kind of guy who will cost a ton in a trade.