By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI -- Outfielder Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds' top prospect, was called up from the minors Tuesday in a move that represents another step toward the franchise's future.
The Reds promoted the 21-year-old outfielder from Triple-A Louisville and designated first baseman Scott Hatteberg for assignment, ending his three-year stay in Cincinnati. The Reds picked up Hatteberg's $1.85 million contract option last October, when they weren't sure whether Joey Votto would be ready to take over at first base.
Votto leads NL rookies with 10 homers, and Hatteberg has been reduced to pinch-hitting.
Bruce was drafted 12th overall in 2005. He batted .364 at Louisville with 10 homers, convincing the Reds he was ready for his big-league debut. Bruce was in center field, batting second, for the start of a series Tuesday against Pittsburgh.
"It's pretty surreal," Bruce said. "It still hasn't sunk in."
Last year, the Reds made a splash when they called up right-hander Homer Bailey, their first-round pick from 2004. Bailey struggled in nine starts, was sent to the minors and failed to win a spot on the team this spring.
Bruce also had a chance in spring training, but hurt his thigh and struggled at the plate. After making a fast climb from Class A to Triple-A last season, the Reds wanted to make sure he was ready before they called him up.
His impressive stay at Louisville convinced them.
"We'll try to work in more of the young players we've seen in the last few weeks," general manager Walt Jocketty said, referring to Votto and shortstop Paul Janish. "I think he'll fit in well."
The Reds sure could use him. Center fielder Corey Patterson is batting .201, and Ryan Freel has had problems in the field and on the bases while batting .325. Manager Dusty Baker plans to use Bruce consistently, but is wary of expecting too much.
Cincinnati opened the series at 23-28, in last place in the NL Central.
"He's not the savior," Baker said. "I just want him to let him play and be himself. Don't put any labels on him or comparisons; just let him play."
The move gives the Reds three rookies in the lineup: Bruce, Votto and the 25-year-old Janish, who was promoted after shortstop Jeff Keppinger broke his kneecap.
"Jay's considered the ultimate prospect," said Votto, who was a second-round pick in June 2002. "I really wasn't considered a prospect, not at his level. Jay's got a lot of weight on his shoulders, and he's got a big responsibility."
The club was criticized for deciding not to promote Bruce when rosters expanded for the final month of last season, afraid of rushing him. His teammates knew that the move on Tuesday wasn't a temporary thing.
"Jay Bruce doesn't catch, does he?" catcher David Ross joked.
When Bruce signed out of out of West Brook High School in Beaumont, Texas, he was considered an eventual replacement in center for Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey moved to right field last season, and is in the final guaranteed year on his contract.
"One of my dreams, and I guess it's a goal realized now, was to play with Ken Griffey Jr.," Bruce said. "I'm getting that chance, and I'm going to make the best of it."
The 38-year-old Hatteberg struggled in his unaccustomed role as a pinch-hitter, batting .173 overall. Jocketty tried to trade him, but there wasn't much interest this early in the season. The Reds have 10 days to trade or release him.
"I know he wasn't happy not playing a lot," Jocketty said. "It was not a comfortable position for him."