GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A steady rain fell as the manager and the GM stood side-by-side, arms crossed, watching the home bullpen. It was a Saturday at the Reds spring training home and in front of them a quartet of young Reds hurlers were unleashing fastballs through the cold morning air.
Dusty's right. The Reds are a popular sleeper pick for a reason. An organization on the rise, Cincinnati -- yes, Cincinnati -- is home to one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball.
David DeWitt "Homer" Bailey, Jr. Remember him? First-round draft pick out of La Grange High School in Texas, can't-miss kid with the golden arm, Savior of Cincinnati. Cocky and brash gunslinger with the electric 98-mph heater and the wicked 12-6 curve. In the summer of 2007, around the time Bailey was promoted from the minors and about to make his much ballyhooed-debut at the Great American Ballpark, there was a big billboard that was up for a few weeks along an Ohio Interstate. On it was an image of Bailey throwing a baseball with the words HE HAS COME. "I'm screwed," Bailey thought to himself as he drove past it one afternoon.
But here he is now, still only 23, relaxed and humbled and poised for a breakout season. Last Saturday morning, a crowd of reporters zeroed in on Chapman's locker after the 21-year-old prospect threw his second bullpen. A few lockers down, Bailey, happily skating under the radar this spring, could only laugh at the Chapman circus. "It's not easy, what he's going through," he says.
Bailey wears cowboy boots, goes boar hunting, drives an F-150 diesel pickup truck, and enjoys reading
Last year, everything changed for Bailey when he asked
This was the Homer Bailey that everyone expected to see three years ago. This was the La Grange legend that had a 41-4 record, a 0.98 ERA and a preposterous 536 strikeouts in 298 innings over his high school career. This is the pitcher that Cincinnati, looking for its first winning season since 2000 and its first postseason appearance since 1995, needs at the top of its rotation. "We're counting on a great season from him," says Harang. "He's changed his attitude and his approach to the game."
This past winter Bailey worked out in Austin, Tex., alongside Cardinals outfielder
It was almost a disastrous winter, but now looking back, Bailey laughs. It's spring now, and a big season lies ahead. There are no billboards. There's no pressure. "He's finally comfortable," says Reds infielder