This is part three of our 25 for 25 series. Today’s post will be about center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
Player Profile: Like Ellsbury, Bradley was a high-profile collegiate center fielder who was drafted in the first round. After winning back to back national championships at the University of South Carolina, Bradley was drafted by the Red Sox with the 40th overall pick in 2011 (a wrist ailment dampened his draft stock). In parts of three minor league seasons, Bradley owns a .297/.404/.471/.876 line. He projects as a gold glove caliber center fielder who takes excellent routes to the ball and has a strong throwing arm. His patient plate approach should eventually earn him a spot as a leadoff man or number two hitter. Should be able to consistently crack double digits in home runs and stolen bases.
2013 Review; While it took Ellsbury the better part of two seasons to make his major league debut, Bradley would make his major league debut after just one full season (plus 10 games in the low minors in late 2011 after he officially signed). A fantastic spring training coupled with David Ortiz beginning the season on the DL earned Bradley a spot on the Opening Day Roster. In his first game against CC Sabathia, Bradley would draw the three walks and made a great catch in left field.
Overall, Bradley’s first season in the majors left a lot to be desired with a final line of .189/.280/.337/.617 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 37 games (95 at-bats). It’s understandable to think he’s not quite ready and the Sox should attempt to at least bring in a right-handed bat to platoon with Bradley. But it’s also important to remember that Bradley had only one half of a season in the upper levels of the minors (61 games for Double A Portland in 2012) before making his big league debut. Even the most elite of prospects will struggle with such little experience at the upper levels. Bradley’s numbers in his time with Pawtucket are a much more encouraging: .275/.374/.469/.842 with 10 home runs in 80 games. His splits were rather encouraging as well, with a .267/.383/.386/.769 vs LHP and .279/.369/.507/.876 vs RHP. If he can maintain those numbers, especially against lefties, he’ll be a very valuable commodity.
Want some more encouragement? Take a look at this stat line: .191/.258/.303/.561 in 31 games. That was what Dustin Pedroia put up after his call up in late 2006. Pedroia would also struggle in the first few weeks of 2007. But he would of course turn things around and hasn’t stopped hitting since. Pedroia was also a high-profile collegiate talent who had a fast rise through the farm system. Pedroia will probably be quick to point this out if Bradley happens to struggle out of the gate in 2014.
2014 Outlook: For the long-term, Bradley will probably bat leadoff or second in the batting order. But with him currently being unproven as a major leaguer, he’ll likely bat ninth to start out 2014. He’ll never be the base stealer Ellsbury was, but his much more patient plate approach should make him a much better OBP guy. A 30 home run season will probably never be on his resume, but Bradley should be able to consistently crack the double digits in homers.
Defensively, Bradley is already considered an upgrade over Ellsbury. Despite not being as fast as Ellsbury, Bradley takes better routes and has a much better throwing arm (Won’t it be nice to actually see a strong arm in center on a full time basis for the first time in forever?). The odds of him collecting a number of Gold Glove awards is pretty good.
Perhaps in the winter of 2019, there will be another high-profile center field prospect ready to take the reigns in center as Bradley becomes a free agent for the first time (like Ellsbury, Bradley is also represented by Scott Boras). But until then, Jackie Bradley’s the guy.