Bruce Bits

After completing a stellar minor league career by kicking a hole in the stratosphere to begin ’08 (while being labeled the most valuable prospect in the universe no less!!!!!), Bruce exploded onto the scene with much anticipation and fan fare in the initial days following his callup on May 27. Everything seemed right in the universe.

However since early June, Bruce has struggled both offensively and defensively* (he’s ranked 28th defensively as a RF by Dewan’s fielding bible system though he’s graded better in CF but doesn’t have enough innings to be ranked).
His growing pains have been painful to watch at times.

In order to place his rookie campaign into context, I used baseball reference’s play index to look at all players in the history of the game who managed to equal or best Bruce’s paltry OPS of .778 over at least 397 PA’s in a season while playing at least 65% of his games in either CF or RF at the tender age 19 thru 21 (Bruce is 21).

Here are the results:
Hank Aaron
Richie Ashburn
Gus Bell
Jay Bruce
Tom Brunansky
Cesar Cedeno
Ty Cobb
Tony Conigliaro
Sam Crawford
Juan Gonzalez
Ken Griffey
Joe Jackson
Andruw Jones
Al Kaline
Dick Kokos
Mickey Mantle
Willie Mays
Mel Ott
Vada Pinson
Tris Speaker
Darryl Strawberry
Lloyd Waner
Ted Williams

Basically Bruce is grouped among only 23 Centerfielders or Rightfielders his age (or younger) who equaled or bested the OPS he’s produced to this point in his rookie season. Among those players, 13 went on to have hall of fame careers (assuming Jr gets in and counting Shoeless Joe as such a talent). The vast majority had very distinguished careers as perennial all stars. In fact it’s tough to pick a career path from the players on that list which would make Bruce anything but a star.

While focusing upon OPS is rough justice given issues with comparing across eras, basically we’re watching history unfold before our very eyes. I hope we’re largely enjoying it. There is every reason to believe that Bruce is going to be an exciting player for a long time if history is an indicator.