SARASOTA, Fla. -- Imagine Jay Bruce's pleasant surprise. First, the Reds' first-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft was called over from the Minor League camp to get his first big-league exposure. Bruce came off the bench and played in a split-squad game against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., on Thursday afternoon. Later, Bruce found out he also was needed for Thursday night's game against Pittsburgh at Ed Smith Stadium. And then, an hour before first pitch, the 19-year-old found himself in the starting lineup in right field, batting seventh, when Josh Hamilton was scratched because of shin splints.
"I can't ask for anything more. It's unbelievable," said Bruce, wearing No. 83 without his last name on the back. "I got over here hoping to get an at-bat. I got two in the last game and I'm starting this game." In the first game, Bruce delivered a broken-bat single to right field in the eighth inning of Cincinnati's 13-1 loss to the Pirates. In the second game, he went 0-for-3 with a pair of flyouts and a strikeout. He also committed a fielding error in the sixth on Andrew McCutchen's fly ball near the foul line. Bruce's appearances added an intriguing glimpse into the future. Baseball America ranked the Beaumont, Texas native as the best player in low Class A and the Reds organization's second-best prospect, behind pitcher Homer Bailey. Last season for Class A Dayton, Bruce batted a team-high .291 with 16 home runs, and his 81 RBIs led Reds' Minor Leaguers. It's likely the five-tool talent will move up to high Class A Sarasota when the season starts. "He's got a chance to be a good player," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "We're talking about a young man that's probably going to be in A ball, maybe Double-A tops, during the year. To get in a big-league exhibition game was a tremendous experience for him." Earlier this week, Bruce stepped in the cage to hit against Reds starter Kyle Lohse in a simulated game. The left-handed hitter felt the learning curve is shortening, especially when he gets to face pitchers at the highest levels. "As far as velocity, it's about the same," Bruce said. "But the Major League pitchers are much more controlled. They have a much better idea of how to pitch. They can spot up a lot better. They're more effective with their pitches. Sinkers sink a little more and stuff like that. "I think just experiencing playing and at-bats will help me the most. Why not do it at the elite level right now? I'm excited to get the chance." Jockeying for position: The battle for the fifth starter spot got a little messy on Thursday. In the day game versus Pittsburgh, Kirk Saarloos gave up five earned runs and seven hits over four innings in his first tough outing. Later in the game, Paul Wilson was tapped for four earned runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.