Jay Bruce in elite company

While perusing the internet last night, I found something I really like to read about on Beyond the Box Score.

BtB has done a really cool feature tha they’re calling Beyond the Box Score’s 50 Best of the Next 5 Years.

Recently, they did number 10 through number 6, and we’re pretty ecstatic with who came in at #10 overall:

No. 10: OF Jay Bruce, Cincinnati (Age 23; Total projected WAR: 28.07; WAR Years 1-5: 5.2, 5.5, 5.7, 5.8, 5.8)

Let’s just say that we expect Bruce to improve upon his present MLB track record. Currently the holder of a .248/.322/.463 line (.337 wOBA) in 1073 plate appearances with the Reds, the right fielder has produced only 3.7 WAR in the three years since being labeled the game’s best prospect by Baseball America.

A prodigious hitter with huge power, a developed approach and a track record of success, Bruce was drafted by the Reds out of high school in 2005, the same year as Andrew McCutchen, and immediately established himself as an elite prospect. After killing the minors (his lowest wOBA at any stint was .393 at Hi Single-A in his debut season), Bruce came up to Cincinnati in 2008, but struggled due to a lack of contact and a propensity to swing-and-miss.

Bruce came back in 2009 and showed significant improvement in his approach as a hitter, but a .221 BABIP significantly suppressed his numbers, leaving him with a slightly below average .329 wOBA in 101 games. But few doubted Bruce’s ability even after two underwhelming seasons, and he’s showing signs of breaking out in 2010, with a .368 wOBA this season and a 1.3 WAR that already nearly matches his career-high from last season.

But our projections see a major breakout in Bruce’s near future, as we have the 23-year-old at 5.2 WAR in Year 1 of our projections. Considered a slightly above average defender, we project his bat to take a big step forward, with a +34 RAA in Year 1 compared to his +0.1 mark in 2009 with the Reds. And given his youth, we project continued improvement from his bat through all five seasons, even though his glove’s progressive decline prevents his value from taking truly massive steps in the right direction.

Player like Andrew McCutchen (18th), Ryan Braun (15th), and Joey Votto (22nd) finish behind the younger Bruce.

It’s nice to have our boy ranked with the likes of Chase Utley, Jason Heyward, Troy Tulowitzski, and Ryan Zimmerman.

And honestly, just eye-balling the kid on a nightly basis and seeing the strides he has taken from his first few weeks in the Major Leagues; into a tough season last year and then the adjustments he’s made playing every day this year raising his average and being Gold-Glove caliber in right; he’s a major reason the Reds are in contention as well aside from the veterans who are having MVP type years.

We aren’t surprised that he’s going to be a top-10 talent in the game over the next several years.