Bruce lets actions do the talking
Experience puts 25-year-old Reds slugger in leadership role
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jay Bruce has been a huge part of the Cincinnati Reds' success for years. He's emerged as one of the best power-hitting outfielders in the National League. He's played in two postseasons. He's getting better. His teammates look up to him.
Oh, and he's still only 25 years old.
As the Reds prepare for the 2013 season and try to stay grounded while setting goals that go beyond their NL Division Series loss to the San Francisco Giants in October, they look to Bruce as one of the keys to their success.
But while Bruce, with five years in the Majors, technically qualifies as a veteran presence in the Cincinnati clubhouse, he says he's not one to push his presence on teammates.
"Honestly, I try to play the game the right way and I try to lead by example, and whether I have one day in or 10 years in, it doesn't matter," Bruce said. "I think there's a correct way to play the game, and that's what I try to do every day. I think some of the younger guys or guys who haven't had the opportunity to play at this level for very long, if they want to ask me questions, I'm happy to answer, but I definitely don't consider myself a salty veteran or anything like that."
Bruce's numbers are beginning to do some arguing in that department.
Last year, he hit a career-high 34 home runs and he drove in a career-high 99 runs. He also slugged over .500 (.514) for the first time in his career and scored 89 runs. His 134 homers in five seasons put him on a pace to have well over 400 for his career if he plays another 10 seasons.
"The sky's the limit, obviously," teammate Ryan Ludwick says. "He's got easy power. Some guys, when you see power, it seems like the swing is forced, almost. His is that left-handed, fluid type of swing. The ball just jumps off his bat. As he gets older, he'll just develop a better approach. The more pitches he sees and the more at-bats he has, he'll improve. I know from my experience and in talking to some other older hitters, you're definitely a better hitter at age 30 than you are at 25.
"He's going to get better, there's no doubt about it. Him and Joey [Votto] and Brandon [Phillips] are going to be around for a little while. The core of this team is intact and that's all you can hope for from a fan standpoint."
Bruce doesn't seem to be looking too far ahead. He's at peace sitting at his locker after arriving at the team's Spring Training complex, getting dressed to begin the day's workouts, and watching the rest of the club interact a few weeks before the season begins. He likes what he sees.
"On this team, we've got a lot of guys who are comfortable with each other and respect each other and expect a high level of preparation, and I think we expect each other to play the game the right way," Bruce says. "And I think that's something that's been taught to us by the organization from the beginning."
One of the newer members of that core group, infielder Todd Frazier, enjoyed a solid rookie season in 2012 and says looking up to players such as Bruce helped him fit in. And it just so happens that Frazier is almost two years older than Bruce.
"He plays the game the right way," Frazier says of Bruce. "He understands his abilities. To see the way he prepares himself every day is pretty cool. It's something I look up to. To say, 'Hopefully I can be like Jay Bruce,' as a young guy coming up, that's pretty good shoes to be in.
"He brings a presence. It feels like a veteran presence."
Reds manager Dusty Baker knows what it means to be a veteran and a leader. He played with Henry Aaron and Steve Garvey and has managed many great players in his stops in Chicago, San Francisco and now Cincinnati. He said it's very possible to be a veteran and a leader at 25 years old.
"Age doesn't matter," Baker says. "It depends if somebody wants to follow you. You can tell who people gravitate toward. ... In order to be a leader, you have to be real unselfish."
Bruce laughs when he hears that "V" word.
"I would not consider myself a vocal leader. In order to lead people, you don't have to be vocal and in peoples' face and real boisterous. I think leading by example, doing things the right way, is definitely something that plays just as importantly as being vocal.
"I think taking a real interest in doing things the right way, in preparing the right way and going about your business as a professional, people see that. I expect that of myself. I hope people expect that from me as well. The more people you get to expect the same out of themselves, that's going to help."
Bruce and the rest of the Reds hope it helps all the way to the World Series title that the team and the city haven't experienced since 1990. They've come close in recent years, and Bruce says he thinks this year's model might have what it takes to get to the top again.
"We're every bit as good as we were last year, and in my opinion better with the additions we made in the offseason and the experience we gained," Bruce says.
"It comes down to playing the game and executing. That's the bottom line."