Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 9/26/13
From 2005-2007, Baseball America, along with many other minor league baseball publications, raved over one pitcher. Homer Bailey, drafted straight out of high school with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2004 draft, was considered to be the top prospect within the Cincinnati Reds organization over those three years.  Although he was drafted in the same class as pitchers like Justin Verlander (No. 2), Jered Weaver (No. 12), Gio Gonzalez (No. 38), and Yovani Gallardo (No. 46), Bailey seemed to be different. He had tremendous velocity and devastating off-speed pitches, with an arm that scouts from MLB.com described as "effortless and loose." Bailey, having just turned 18 when he was drafted by the Reds, was the perfect pitching prospect. All he needed was a few years in the minor leagues to mature before he would embark on his journey to the Hall of Fame -- well, at least that's what many believed. Bailey made his major league debut in 2007 at the age of 21. While his pitches still had the same bite that scouts saw throughout his high school days, his control had not developed. In 45.1 innings, Bailey posted a 5.76 ERA with just as many walks (28) as strikeouts. The following year was even worse: in 8 starts between June 5 and Aug. 6, Bailey threw 36.1 innings, resulting in a 7.93 ERA, 17 walks, and 18 strikeouts. It was clear that Bailey didn't take the jump to the MLB as well as the Reds' organization had hoped, but at just 23-years-old, entering what would be his third season in the bigs, the Reds weren't ready to give up on him just yet. The Reds started Bailey in AAA at the beginning of 2009, letting him work on his mechanics and hone his control. After 14 starts, Bailey sported a 2.71 ERA and seemed ready for another shot at primetime. The Reds awarded him a spot in the starting rotation by the end of May, and Bailey finally seemed to be making strides. In 20 starts, Bailey finished with a 4.53 ERA, 52 walks, and 86 strikeouts, a considerable jump from his previous stint. Things were trending upwards for the young pitcher, and it appeared as though he was poised to breakout in 2010. Unfortunately, that's not what happened. His results in 2010 were, for the most part, identical to his 2009 season. His ERA dropped from 4.53 to 4.46, and he increased his K:BB ratio, striking out 100 while only walking 40. Yet again, the season ended, and the world still didn't know much about Homer Bailey. And, yet again, the following year would bring high expectations and high hopes for this still-young pitcher from The Lone Star State. In 2011, it was much of the same: a slight improvement on ERA (4.46 to 4.43), a few more strikeouts (106 to 100), and a few less walks (33 from 40). As far as any baseball aficionado could see, Bailey, the former top prospect with a ceiling as high as the Hagia Sophia, was plateauing a little too early. And then things changed. Bailey emerged in 2012 as a potential front-line starter, tossing 208 innings of solid production. His 3.68 ERA was nearly a full run lower than his average from the prior three years (4.47), his 168 strikeouts to 52 walks proved that his control was finally -- for lack of a better term -- under control, and for you Sabermetricians out there, his WAR was an impressive 2.5, according to FanGraphs.com. While Bailey's 2012 campaign was a significant improvement, one season cannot erase six years of lackluster pitching. So, in 2013, Bailey decided to come back for more. Through 31 starts this year, Bailey has done a lot. He threw the second no-hitter of his career, a feat that many pitchers will never accomplish even once. He reached the 200-inning mark for the second time in a Cincinnati Reds uniform. He posted a 4.0 WAR, good for 9th in the National League, trailing only Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Mat Latos, Jhoulys Chacin, Jose Fernandez, and Cole Hamels. He should break the 200-strikeout plateau -- he has 196 and another start against the Pirates on Friday -- and has only amassed 50 walks. He has helped the Reds clinch a playoff spot despite playing most of the season without star pitcher Johnny Cueto. And, he should help the Reds succeed in the playoffs, something they might not have trusted him to do just two years ago. Most importantly, though, Bailey has done the improbable: persevered through hundreds of bad innings, through critics saying he was a draft bust, and through the journey to success in the big leagues that many never complete. At age 27, Bailey's star is finally shining bright yet again.
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