The Boston Red Sox have formally handed over the keys to center field to Jackie Bradley Jr. If he is to become the player he hopes to be, Bradley will need to forget about why he has the job in the first place.
All the rage after a hot Spring Training in 2013, Bradley Jr. made the jump directly from Double-A Portland to starting opening day at Yankee Stadium. The task was a bit too daunting and, eventually, Bradley Jr. spent most of 2013 quietly having a good year in Triple-A Pawtucket.
Brought back up to Boston once Pawtucket’s season ended, Bradley’s saw more action than he did his first two call-ups and was a better hitter. Playing in 14 games down the stretch—starting 10—Bradley hit .247 overall and improved his BABIP(Batting average for balls in play) to .320, an improvement over his .158 BABIP in April.
In Pawtucket, Bradley struck 26 doubles in 80 games, pounded 10 homers and hit .275. With a tendency of being too anxious at the plate with the big club, Bradley cut his strikeout total with the PawSox to 75. Not great, but not awful either.
Now with a winter to prepare for what everyone hopes to be the beginning of a long career at Fenway Park, Bradley needs to relax and focus on just being Jackie Bradley Jr.
Nope, he is not Jacoby Ellsbury. Bradley does not possess Ellsbury’s raw speed and experience in patrolling one of the biggest center fields in the American League. Bradley has yet to show the ability to hit for a high average over the course of a season.
Bradley is also not Matt Kemp, the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder long rumored to be a trade target of Boston. Although Bradley’s ceiling is very high, no one seriously thinks he has the power needed to challenge for a triple crown. Bradley—that we know of—also does not have the tendency to date reality television starlet’s either.
He is Jackie Bradley Jr.—thank you, very much—and is not the “Plan C” centerfielder he will be made out to be by others in the press.
A Top 35 prospect last season by both Baseball America and MLB.com, Bradley will turn 24 on April 19. Simply, we cannot get a true handle on his talent as he has yet to develop fully as a minor-league player, let alone a major leaguer.
The results, however, are very encouraging.
Splitting his time between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland, Bradley hit .315 and registered an OPS of .911. The kid can find the gaps with his swing and can leg out extra base hits. Stroking 42 doubles and four triples, Bradley posted an on-base percentage of .430. When comfortable, he can draw walks, walking 87 times in 2012. He can also steal a base if he has to, swiping 24 out of 33 between the two teams.
Chances are Bradley will not make fans miss Ellsbury out of the gate, but he earned every chance at this shot and has shown the Red Sox that he is a very good player in his own right.
The better his teammates can insulate Bradley from the start until he finds his own comfort zone, the better off he and the Red Sox will be.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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