David DeWitt Bailey, aka "Homer," was the Reds' 1st-round selection in the 2004 amateur players draft. The 7th overall pick that year, Bailey was a tall, wiry right-handed fireballer from LaGrange high school, Texas, which immediately brought inevitable comparisons to Nolan Ryan. Bailey already had two outstanding pitches--a fastball that could reach the mid to upper 90's, and a big 12-6 curveball. The question with was whether he could learn to command those pitches. Other players drafted in his class include Justin Verlander at #2, Jeremy Sowers at #6, Jered Weaver at #12, Bill Bray at #13, Stephen Drew at #15, and Houston Street at #40.
After signing, Bailey threw just 12 innings in the Gulf Coast League his first year as a professional. In 2005, the Reds pushed the then-19 year old to low-A Dayton. Bailey held his own, sporting a 4.43 ERA and outstanding strikeout rates (10.8 k/9), but also showing trouble with his control (5.4 bb/9). In 2006, however, Bailey broke out in a huge way. As a 20-year old, he performed very well in the Florida State league, showing huge improvements in his walk rate while maintaining a steady, high strikeout rate. Sensing that he needed a greater challenge, the Reds moved him mid-season to AA-Chattanooga, where his ERA actually dropped to an unreal 1.59 ERA. His walk rate did spike a bit to 3.7 bb/9, but his k-rate remained constant.
In 2007, despite rumors that he might make the starting rotation out of spring training, Bailey began the season in AAA-Louisville. Charged with improving his ability to use his offspeed pitches, Bailey's strikeout plummeted and walk rates soared during his early starts, but by the end of May, he'd managed to push them back up to a respectable 8.1 k/9 and 3.8 bb/9. Despite those struggles, and perhaps aided by a very low 0.240 BABIP, Homer posted a superb 2.31 ERA.
Minor League Stats:
As we saw in his first start, Bailey will have lapses in his control from time to time, but his great stuff (and the resulting high strikeout rate) should help him survive his occasional wildness. If he can harness that control as he continues to mature, the scouts think that Bailey can become one of the great pitchers of our time.
His Major League debut with the Reds was one of the most exciting things I've heard on a Reds' radio broadcast since the world series. Fans gave him a standing ovation when he arrived, and chants of "Homer! Homer! Homer!" were audible during a dramatic bases-loaded showdown with David Delucci in the top of the 5th. It's going to be a lot of fun watching him blossom over the coming years.
Photo by the Cincinnati Post