I’m working on a longer piece about this, but here’s a nice reminder of where we are in the careers of the three top prospects in the NL Central circa 2005. Andrew McCutchen: Winning MVPs. Jay Bruce: Getting what is probably undue MVP hype.
Jay Bruce could have an MVP year. He really could. He’ll be 27 next month. This will be his seventh big-league season. He’s at the epicenter of his prime. It’s time.Colby Rasmus: Not pictured.
Bruce has had MVP stretches, weeks and months when the Reds rode him like Secretariat. He has had full seasons of MVP-quality defense. His arm is a game changer. The potential to be a special player is there, and up to now just out of reach.
Bruce was always supposed to be the one who grew out of center field, but the super-high strikeout rates have basically left him stalled at the player Colby Rasmus is trying to be with the bat.
What happened with Bruce, Rasmus, and McCutchen is the kind of thing that leaves us open to naive-projecting our favorite top prospects right into MVP contention: Very occasionally, the young guy who appears to be making rapid progress in a way that confirms your anonymous-scout patter really is making rapid progress.
At 20 McCutchen hit .265/.328/.388 in AA, which meant he was Growing Into His Power and Learning To Hit. Rasmus hit .275/.381/.551 at the same level, which left me basically satisfied that he had Grown Into His Power and Learned To Hit. Then Rasmus hit a stall in AAA Memphis and McCutchen hit .283/.372/.398 in AAA Indianapolis.
All this time, while Rasmus has bounced between slugging .500 and stalling out and McCutchen has continued to learn to hit and grow into his power, Jay Bruce has put together season after season as a second-tier slugger with a great arm who is not quite a center fielder.
He’s the only one who has refused to give us the narrative progress we ask of our top prospects, so we’ve thrown up our hands and given him one ourself: Maybe this is the year he does not hit like Jay Bruce.