Bruce makes the most of his tools

first_imgLANCASTER – The California League record book reads like a Who’s Who of high-profile big-leaguers. That makes the juxtaposition of unheralded JetHawks shortstop Derek Bruce alongside Rickey Henderson, Gary Sheffield, Jack Clark, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire all the more improbable. Bruce, 23, who was drafted in the 19th round of the 2004 draft out of perennial NAIA power Lewis and Clark State, stands out more for his effort than his raw ability on a JetHawks team that, despite early-season struggles, is loaded with high-ceiling prospects. He made the most of his opportunity in a short stint with the Single-A club last season, playing himself into an everyday job and tying league records for consecutive hits (10) and doubles in a game (4) during a remarkable stretch in late May. Soon afterward, Bruce was assigned to short-season Yakima (Wash.), a move precipitated by JetHawks parent Arizona Diamondbacks sending elite prospect Stephen Drew to Lancaster. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event“It’s kind of weird when I think about it,” Bruce said. “I guess I got lucky.: Bruce batted .341 in 30 games at Lancaster, but he cooled off at Yakima, batting .278 in 75 games. He is batting .265 in 15 games this season but has emerged as a clubhouse leader whose energetic playing style has been one of the bright spots on a team that is off to a 4-13 start. Bruce admittedly does not possess a “plus tool” (above average, by major-league standards), but he thrives on hustle and work ethic he developed growing up in rural Lewiston, Idaho. He prides himself on his hard-nosed playing style, which he said was instilled by longtime Lewis and Clark coach Ed Cheff. Bruce plays the game in just one gear, running out to his position with vigor every inning. He runs out groundballs however routine they might seem. He hustles down the line after drawing a walk or when hit by a pitch. “He taught us to love the game, to respect the game,” Bruce said. “It’s not for show, but it’s a way of showing that you respect the game.” Teammates say his approach to the game is refreshing and contagious. “A lot of players, especially the younger players, don’t really have that attitude anymore,” JetHawks first baseman Cesar Nicolas said. “I see it, and I admire it. I think it does show respect for the game and what kind of a ballplayer he is.” JetHawks manager Brett Butler, himself a former overachieving major-leaguer who rode the bench his senior year in high school, says he sees a little bit of himself in his old-school shortstop. He believes Bruce’s understanding of the game and how it should be played, and his ability to play any position – he said Bruce is an emergency catcher and believes he could even pitch in a pinch – makes him a valuable asset. “There are guys who have great ability and great talent,” Butler said. “They can run, and they can hit, and they can throw, but a lot them don’t know how to play the game. As much as you value those tools, the intangible of knowing how to play the game is sometimes unmeasured.” Butler said Bruce exemplifies the character he said he committed to developing in his players. He believes Bruce could have a future in managing or coaching after his playing career is over. “The way he goes about things is really exceptional,” Butler said. “He’s always working, trying to improve on his weaknesses. He’s one of those guys who, when he walks away from the game, isn’t going to have a regret because he gives it everything he has.” That quality served Butler well, making him a Dodgers fan favorite. It explains why it has become impossible for JetHawks fans not to root for Bruce. “It’s just good to see good things happen to people to work hard,” Nicolas said. [email protected] (818) 713-3607160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img