After a phenomenal spring training last season, Jackie Bradley Jr. improbably made the Opening Day roster and was expected to run with the starting left field job. However, that’s not quite how things worked out. Bradley was clearly unprepared for the major leagues and struggled mightily in April. He was better prepared in three later stints at the big league level, but his 2013 season left some doubtful about Bradley’s future performance (which was ridiculous given the small sample size, to be fair).
Ironically, the year that Bradley struggling in spring training and wasn’t even expected to make the Opening Day roster– he was a promotion on Opening Day when Shane Victorino headed to the disabled list– is the year that he is cementing himself into the Red Sox lineup. Along with his trademark excellent defense, in both right field and center field this year, Bradley has been solid at the plate in the early going. Bradley has now started five games this season and is slashing .400/.400/.500 through his first 20 plate appearances.
Being a quality replacement player is all well and good, but the real question is what will become of Bradley when Victorino returns from the disabled list. Grady Sizemore won the starting center field job in spring training and has done a respectable job there through his first week, meaning that he is likely here to stay. In the left field competition, none of Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, or Daniel Nava has really separated themselves from the pack this season. To keep Bradley on the roster, one of them would have to go; the Red Sox could also place Carp on the disabled list (he has been dealing with lower back tightness), but that would only be a temporary solution.
However, Bradley certainly does belong in the major leagues. He has nothing left to prove in Triple-A as he slashed .275/.374/.469 in Pawtucket last season, and is yet to prove that he should not be in the major leagues. That leaves Bradley in an awkward limbo position, as Victorino will certainly play once he returns and Sizemore will probably begin to play more and more as the season progresses, seemingly constricting Bradley’s options for playing time. It’s a difficult position for a youngster to be in, but if he can keep playing the way that he has so far, then he’ll be forced into the lineup somehow.
See if Bradley Jr. will be in the starting lineup when they play the Yankees Friday and for which you can find Yankees tickets here.