Mar 6, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) looks on from the third base line during a game against the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

What will be Jackie Bradley Jr.’s role?

Despite losing the competition for starting center fielder this spring, Jackie Bradley Jr. still finds himself on the Opening Day 25-man roster via a trip to the disabled list for Shane Victorino. However, with that center field situation taken care of and with a glut of other outfielders on the roster, what will be Bradley’s role in the first few weeks of the season?

As the team’s #2 or #3 prospect (depending on who you ask), it’s unlikely that the Red Sox have recalled Bradley to simply sit on the bench. With Grady Sizemore in center field and some combination of Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, and Daniel Nava across the other three spots, there’s no clear path to regular playing time for Bradley, though. Carp, Gomes, and Nava all will likely be better hitters than Bradley in 2014; however, Bradley’s value to the Red Sox stems from him being an entirely different player than anyone else currently on the Red Sox’ roster.

Discounting the injured Shane Victorino, Jackie Bradley Jr. is probably the only player on the roster that could be trusted to defend the spacious Fenway Park right field. Daniel Nava spent a fair amount of time in right field last season, and started in right yesterday, but that’s likely not for the best. In Nava’s career, he has posted a -14.1 UZR/150 rating in right field as opposed to a -9.6 UZR/150 in left field. However, the Red Sox still let Nava play 69 games in right field last year (he actually only played 63 games in left field), suggesting that Nava is still the most trusted defensive outfielder among that conglomerate of platoon outfielders.

With Nava the most trusted of those outfielders, yet still markedly terrible in right field, it’s clear that Bradley would be a breath of fresh air out on the Fenway green. However, would Bradley’s improved defense be enough to outweigh his offensive performance, which would likely be worse than any of the other three outfielders?

The answer to that is a resounding “maybe”. It’s unlikely that Bradley will start everyday in right field until Victorino is healthy again, but hopefully we’ll see Bradley out there more than Nava, Carp, or Gomes. Also, Sizemore will probably be seeing regular off days until he gets his legs back under him, so Bradley would be able to fill in in center field when Sizemore takes a day off. It seems reasonable that we could see Bradley 3-4 times a week between right and center field until Victorino returns. He should play that role of the more-than-a-backup/less-than-a-starter, which should be a positive for both the present (the Red Sox will have not-terrible outfield defense) and future (we get a look at one of the team’s top prospects) of the Red Sox.

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  • Pete Sonski

    What if Sizemore had not been signed? Do you think JBJ would’ve had such a weak spring training? Is he ready to play every day if Sizemore can’t? Do you think Cherington is keeping tabs on center fielders?

    • Conor Duffy

      Interesting questions. You could make a post out of that!

  • Sean Sylver

    He did have a weak showing in Spring Training, but last year, he had a strong one. He hasn’t shown it at the Major League level, but he hasn’t really gotten a chance. It’s been a dance for Bradley. I think they’ll go with Sizemore this year and trade from among the depth (Carp?) – which will open up more opportunities. JBJ is still young, but he’ll have to get at-bats sometime if we intend to find out what kind of player he is.

    • Pete Sonski

      I agree the Red Sox are committed to JBJ long term, but short term they are committed to Sizemore. Getting JBJ as much field time and at bats while Victorino is on the shelf would be my strategy.