December 12, 2012 - Midwest League (MWL) - Dayton Dragons
On December 4, Baseball America named the Cincinnati Reds as the 2012 Organization of the Year. The highly-respected longtime industry leader known for its coverage of professional baseball noted that years before the Reds' current wave of success, from 1992-2002, their 11 first round draft picks produced only one starting player, outfielder Austin Kearns. In 2004, the Reds hired longtime scout and executive Terry Reynolds to oversee the scouting department, acknowledging that as a small market team, the Reds road to success would have to come through developing homegrown talent.
Reynolds faced his first draft in 2004, hoping to reverse the trend of disappointing number one selections. The Reds recent first round picks, featuring names like pitchers Chris Gruler, Ty Howington, and Ryan Wagner, had been bitten by a merciless injury bug. Others, like outfielder Johnny Oliver and infielder David Espinosa, never panned out. One first rounder, pitcher Jeremy Sowers, was not even signed. The Reds future success was riding on the abilities of Reynolds and his staff to turn things around, beginning with their first pick in '04, the seventh overall selection.
By the time the Reds choice came around on that June day in 2004, six players were off the board, and those six have gone on to various degrees of success or lack thereof. The first overall selection, shortstop Matt Bush of the Padres, became one of the all-time biggest busts in draft history. The Padres released him just three years later without Bush ever having reached the Double-A level. The second pick that year, pitcher Justin Verlander, has gone on to become one of the best players in the game. The next four selections, all pitchers, have reached the Major Leagues but failed to live up to expectations. With the seventh pick, Reynolds took a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher out of La Grange High School in Texas. This is the story of the 20th Dragons player to reach the big leagues, David "Homer" Bailey.
Bailey had posted a record of 41-4 over his four years of high school and led his team to the state championship as both a freshman and a senior. In 2004, he was selected as the National High School Player of the Year by USA Today. After the 2004 draft, he was handled carefully by the Reds, limited to just three starts in Rookie-ball that season before coming to Dayton in 2005 for his first full year of professional baseball.
"Homer Bailey was the best pitcher that I have seen in Dayton," says Marc Katz, who covered the Dragons from 2000-'09 for the Dayton Daily News. "I thought he had the smoothest delivery, although some scouts would tell me that his delivery was so smooth it actually made it easier for batters to pick up the ball."
Entering 2005 ranked as the Reds number one prospect by Baseball America, Bailey made 28 appearances for the Dragons that season, a year in which new general manager Dan O'Brien installed a tandem system for the pitching staff in Dayton. The pitchers alternated each time through the rotation between starting and relieving and were limited to fewer innings per start. Over the first month of the season and again in the final month, Bailey pitched out of the bullpen every other time he took the mound. Over the middle three months, he started every fifth day. He finished with a record of 8-4 and a 4.43 earned run average. He struck out 125 and walked 62 over 104 innings.
"His attitude when he was here probably wasn't the best," says Katz. "He didn't always listen to the coaches and he tried to get by on just his fastball."
Over one stretch in May, Bailey went four straight outings without allowing a run, totaling 17 innings. He allowed only seven hits during that time. His best start came August 11 at Fifth Third Field against Clinton when he tossed five shutout innings, struck out 11 and walked only one, permitting only two hits. He was so consistently dominant that night that he struck out at least two batters in every inning.
As Bailey climbed through the farm system, his numbers got better and better, as if he was improving faster than the competition was getting better. After a good first half in 2006 at Sarasota, the Reds promoted the then-20 year old Bailey to Double-A Chattanooga, where he dominated, going 7-1 with a 1.59 ERA in 13 starts.
At the start of the 2007 season, Bailey was not only the top prospect in the Reds organization for the third straight year, but now rated as the fifth best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. He started the year in Louisville, went 6-1 with a 2.31 ERA, and was called up to the Reds. His big league debut on June 8 against Cleveland was a success. He worked five innings and allowed just two runs to earn the victory. His next five starts proved more difficult, and Bailey was sent back to Louisville, only to return to Cincinnati for three starts in September. His final record was 4-2 with a 5.76 ERA as a 21-year-old rookie.
Bailey split the next two seasons between Cincinnati and Louisville, enjoying a mix of success and frustration. In 2010, he went 4-3 with a 4.46 ERA for the Reds and actually returned to the Dragons for one start on an injury rehabilitation assignment. In 2011, Bailey went 9-7 with a 4.43 ERA to set the stage for the breakthrough year in 2012 that many had long predicted.
With the Reds in 2012, Bailey established career bests in wins, ERA, starts, innings, and strikeouts. He went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA, walking just 52 batters in 208 innings. On May 29, he tossed his second career complete game, allowing just one run in nine innings in a win over Pittsburgh. In 12 of his 33 starts, Bailey allowed one earned run or less, and in six others, he surrendered just two earned runs. On September 28 in Pittsburgh, Bailey's career reached its pinnacle (to date) when he authored the first no-hitter by a Reds pitcher in 24 years. He struck out 10 and walked only one batter in a truly masterful performance. Bailey also started game three of the playoffs against the Giants and allowed just one hit and one run in seven innings, striking out 10, and looking like an all-star.
"I still think we are still waiting to see the best of Homer Bailey," says Katz.
As Terry Reynolds' first draft pick in 2004, Bailey's arrival and development started the turnaround that led to the 2012 Organization of the Year honor. With Reynolds' first round pick in 2005, he landed another gem, Jay Bruce. Bailey was the 20th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues when he made his debut in 2007. Next up: Joey Votto.