Heading into the 1998 season, he was named the Atlanta Braves top prospect by Baseball America. That year, he was named the Southern League's (AA) most outstanding pitcher. Fast forward to 2004, he has bounced around from organization to organization, and has been forced to settle on a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Can you guess who it is? If you said Bruce Chen, you got it.
In 1993, he was signed to a contract by the Atlanta Braves. He appeared to be a pitcher who had "Major Leagues" written all over him. Chen pitched in the Braves organization for some seven years, making stops on the Braves' clubs in the Gulf Coast League, Danville, Eugene, Macon, Greenville, Richmond, and finally Atlanta. Save for the last one, those are hardly top-flight destination cities. He made his Major League debut in a relief appearance on September 7, 1998 at Shea Stadium against the Mets. While Chen was in the Braves system for a fairly long time, they finally gave up on him on July 12, 2000, sending him to Philadelphia.
The next four years would test Bruce's patience and dedication. He was sent to the Phillies along with Jimmy Osting in exchange for Andy Ashby. He appeared in 15 games for the Phillies that season, and things appeared to finally be headed in the right direction for the Hartford, Connecticut native. If it seemed too good to be true for Chen, it was. The following season, Chen started the season in Philadelphia and made 16 appearances. He struggled at times, posting an ERA of 5.00. Finally, the Philadelphia brass had seen enough. He would be sent down to pitch in the Phillies' farm system to finish out the season.
Only he didn't last in the organization until the end of the season. On July 27, 2001, Chen would again pack up and move ship. This time he was off to New York, where he'd play for the team he made his Major League debut against some three years prior. For the Mets Chen would play the rest of the season out at the Major League level. He appeared in 11 games, and was a valuable innings-eater for the Mets. The next year, he injured himself in his only appearance of the season, and Chen knew what was about to happen.
The day prior to Opening Day 2002, Chen was given the ultimate slap to the face. He was shipped off to the Montreal Expos. Going with Chen were Dicky Gonzalez, Luis Figueroa, Saul Rivera, while Scott Strickland, Phil Seibel, and Matt Watson were headed to New York. Montreal actually seemed like a good fit for Chen. He'd surely get innings there, and perhaps could salvage his career.
He again appeared in 15 games, as Chen continued his trend of not being able to hit 20 appearances in a season. He was used in situations where the team was either down or up by a bundle, as his ERA was just under 7 at 6.99. He was by no means a solid option in the Expos ‘pen. At the beginning of the 2004 season, the Expos dealt Chen to the Cincinnati Reds for Jim Brower. Finally, Chen was on a team desperate enough for pitching assistance he'd pitch a full season in the Major Leagues. To this day, it remains his only full year in the majors. He appeared in 39 games, and posted 4.31 ERA in 39.2 innings. He held the opposition to a .243 average, yet was still let go by the Reds.
In 2003, Bruce started the year in Houston as they signed him to a minor league contract. He appeared in 11 games there, and was hammered by his NL Central foes. He posted a 6.00 ERA and hitters hit .311 against him. Chen's contract was purchased by the Pawtucket Red Sox of the International League, as they signed him to a temporary contract. He performed well there, holding hitters to a stingy .244, and worked in 85 innings as he made 15 starts. His ERA was a mildly respectable 4.24. Late in the season, the Red Sox picked up the enigmatic right-hander and he pitched in five games there. While he didn't pitch terribly, he didn't do well enough to justify the AL-East front-running Boston Red Sox hanging onto him.
On Novemeber 26, 2003, Bruce was given yet another chance. This time, he was signed to a minor league deal by the Toronto Blue Jays. He will start the season in Triple-A Syracuse, but could see time in Toronto as injuries or poor performance dictate. Is it too late for this troubled pitcher to get his career on track? After nine long years bouncing around in baseball, you've got to pull for him. Only time will tell.
|Chen - Major League Career Totals|
|Chen - Minor League Career Totals|