Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
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.