Bruce spent much of his sophomore season in the Major Leagues with a batting average that hovered just above the Mendoza line. He missed two months with a fractured right wrist while attempting a sliding catch on the grass at Citi Field.
"The adversity I dealt with last year was pretty serious," said Bruce, who will turn 23 on April 3. "Everyone should deal with adversity, and I'm going to use it as a positive to come back this year and be the player that I know I can be."
It was the first time Bruce experienced such a prolonged slump or dealt with a severe injury. After all, this was the top rated prospect in all of baseball in 2008, who debuted to huge fanfare in May of that season and delivered. He reached base in each of his first six plate appearances and collected 11 hits in his first 19 at-bats. Obviously, that pace was impossible to maintain, but Bruce was mostly solid the rest of the season as he became accustomed to the ups and downs of hitting in the big leagues.
Electing not to play winter ball and make up at-bats from the 57 games he missed last year, Bruce instead went home to Beaumont, Texas, and decompressed. Eventually, he resumed lifting weights, running, throwing and -- beginning about a month ago -- hitting.
The wrist has passed all of the tests, and there is nothing holding back Bruce in his workouts.
"It's felt fine and like [the injury] never happened," Bruce said. "I've had no pain; it's nonexistent. For a little bit, when I came back, it was still tight, but it's fine now."
The left-handed-hitting Bruce finished last season batting .223 with 22 home runs, 58 RBIs and only a .303 on-base percentage in 101 games. Discipline at the plate was often an issue. He walked 38 times with 75 strikeouts in 345 at-bats. Defensively he had 11 assists, and his arm should make runners think twice before taking an extra base.
The batting average was partially salvaged by Bruce's performance after coming off the disabled list in September. He batted .326 (15-for-46) with four homers and 17 RBIs over his final 18 games. That raised his season average from .208.
Bruce clearly made the most of his DL time. He watched other hitters, like Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and made some adjustments. He stopped what he called a "double tap" with his swing and started picking up and putting down his front foot, which he said gives him more time to see the ball and make better decisions.
Although manager Dusty Baker would not make guarantees at last season's end, all indications are that Bruce is secure as the Reds' regular right fielder. The club made no outfielder acquisitions that would threaten his role.
The Reds suffered in the standings last season, in part, because they lacked disciplined hitters and run producers. Since July 31, third baseman Scott Rolen and shortstop Orlando Cabrera were added to the lineup and catcher Ramon Hernandez was re-signed. But for Cincinnati to challenge for a playoff berth, all of their key contributors need to show up. That certainly would include Bruce, who will likely bat sixth again in the lineup.
Could last season's 18-game finish offer a glimpse as to how Bruce might perform in 2010?
"I think you always start over, but it gave me confidence," Bruce said. "Success breeds confidence, period, whenever you have it. I still have confidence from my first couple of weeks in the big leagues. It showed me I could do it then, and there is no reason to think I can't do it again."