The Reds drafted Homer Bailey 7th overall in the 2004 draft out of La Grange High School in La Grange, Texas. The Reds signed him for $2.3M. He came out of school with a big fastball, a potentially plus curve and was considered to be a polished pitcher for a high schooler. He signed late in the year and made a short debut in August with the GCL Reds. He threw 12.1 innings with 3 walks, 9 strikeout and a 4.38 ERA. After the season, Baseball America ranked him as the #48 prospect in all of baseball as he was already considered an elite pitching prospect in the game despite how far he was from the Major Leagues.
In 2005 the Reds sent Homer Bailey to the Dayton Dragons and the Midwest League. Bailey flashed some outstanding things while with Dayton, but he also showed some struggles. He threw 103 innings with a 4.43 ERA and 125 strikeouts. However he also walked 65 batters, showing poor control over the season. His fastball was sitting 93-95 and he flashed a plus curveball, though it was still inconsistent. His change up was still very much a work-in-progress. His innings were limited as the Reds were employing a “tandem-starter” program. Despite the questionable stats that he put up, Baseball America rated Bailey a little higher than the year before with him coming in as the #35 prospect in all of baseball.
2006 was a bit of a breakout year, at least statistically, for Bailey. Bailey was sent to Sarasota to play for the Reds in the Florida State League. After 13 starts with a 3.31 ERA and 70.2 innings with 22 walks and 79 strikeouts he was promoted to the Double-A Southern League with the Chattanooga Lookouts. Just like his time in Sarasoa, Bailey made 13 starts, this time stretching 68 innings and he posted a glowing 1.59 ERA with 28 walks and 77 strikeouts. His walk rate dropped dramatically overall in 2006, but it was better in Sarasota than in Chattanooga, where it was still below-average but improved from 2005. His overall line was good with 138.2 innings pitched, 50 walks, 156 strikeouts and a 2.47 ERA. He was lauded for his improved curveball that had sharp break and a fastball that was sitting 94-95 and touching 98. However he hardly used his change up and it was noticeably his third pitch. Baseball America ranked him the #5 prospect in the minor leagues after the season, establishing himself as one of, if not the best pitching prospect in the game.
The Reds sent Bailey to Louisville to start 2007 and he got off to a good start, posting a 2.31 ERA through 10 starts over 58.1 innings with 24 walks and 51 strikeouts. For the first time in his career, he had fewer strikeouts than innings pitched at a level (not counting for rookie ball where he had a handful of innings). The Reds called him up for a start on June 8th. While Bailey picked up the win as he allowed 2 runs in 5 innings, he walked 4 batters and struck out just 3 while throwing 114 pitches. He went on to struggle over his 9 starts in the Majors as he posted a 5.76 ERA with 28 walks and 28 strikeouts in 45.1 innings pitched. He struggled with his control and his ability to put hitters away. He would eventually head to the DL and when he came back he continued to struggle with his control, even at the minor league level. Despite his struggles in the Majors Baseball America still ranked him as the #9 prospect in the game.
In 2008 Bailey began his year in Louisville. The Reds had Bailey begin to work on a slider to go along with his curveball and Bailey struggled at times with the Bats as he threw 111.1 innings with 46 walks and 95 strikeouts to go with a 4.77 ERA. He would be called up to the Reds where he again struggled as he posted a 7.93 ERA in 36.1 innings with 17 walks and 18 strikeouts. At the Major League level Bailey really used his slider as his breaking ball, using his curveball sparingly. The pitch however wasn’t quite consistently good, but it had come a long way in a short period of time. He lost his prospect eligibility during this season, so he no longer showed up on prospect lists.
Despite not being prospect ineligible, he still was a minor leaguer for a good part of the 2009. Bailey began the season with Louisville and after a slow start in April, he really rebounded well as he posted a 2.71 ERA in 89.2 innings with 27 walks and 82 strikeouts. Bailey got the call on June 27th and was up to stay for the rest of the year. His first two starts were rough, a combined 9.1 innings with 13 walks and just 5 strikeouts to go along with 9 earned runs, but he finished out the season pretty well after that with a 4.15 ERA in 104 innings with 39 walks and 81 strikeouts. Bailey made big strides with his slider in the season and started to show improved control as the season went along.
Bailey spent the next two seasons battling injuries and was unable to truly build upon the improvements he was showing in 2009. Finally able to put together a full season of health, the right hander finally was able to put together the kind of season that had long been expected of him, highlighted by a no-hitter and pure dominance in the playoffs for the Reds in his lone start.
The Reds may have rushed Bailey along a little too quickly in hindsight. His ERA was shiny while he was in AAA for his first call up, but his walk rate and strikeout rate weren’t much to write home about. In face, his walk rate was quite poor. He was also mostly a 2-pitch guy with his change up being below-average that he didn’t rely on much. He really struggled the next season as the Reds had him begin to work on a slider and eventually it developed into one of the better sliders in all of baseball (4th highest rated slider among starting pitchers since 2011 began according to Fangraphs). Bailey has gone from a no slider all curveball pitcher to a guy who throws his slider 20% of the time now and has cut the usage of his curveball in half from 20% to 10%. He also completely scrapped his change up and now uses a split-fingered fastball in place of it. Injuries, particularly after the 2009 season may have held him back some from becoming the guy he was in 2012 a little bit sooner.
He has done a lot of developing at the Major League level. When he first came up, he was FB-CV-CH pitcher who had struggles with his control. He has evolved into a FB-SL-CV-SF pitcher who has above-average control with one of the best breaking balls in all of baseball. While he has yet to become the guy that most people envisioned of him while he was in the minor leagues, he has shown flashes of being that pitcher over the last several years and took a large step forward in 2012 to becoming that guy. Whether he can take that next step forward or not is yet to be seen.