At the beginning of the 2013 season, expectations for Jackie Bradley Jr. were high. After an impressive spring training, Bradley made the opening day roster as the starting left fielder. At this point, Daniel Nava was on the bench, Jonny Gomes was a DH, and David Ortiz was on the disabled list, giving Bradley a chance to prove himself in the bigs. Bradley started off his 2013 campaign strong, reaching base in his first four games. After the fourth game of the season, Bradley went hitless in his next seven games, putting his batting average at a mere .097. Once David Ortiz came back from the disabled list, Boston optioned Bradley down to AAA Pawtucket.
In Pawtucket, Bradley fared well, smacking ten homers in 80 games while boasting a .374 OBP. This, along with showing some promise in the second half of the season, made Bradley a potential starting center field candidate for the 2014 season in Boston. After the All-Star break, Bradley hit .243 in 37 big league at-bats with a .317 OBP which, along with stellar defense, is the reason why Boston wanted him to start in 2014.
During the 2014 offseason, Boston signed former All-Star center fielder Grady Sizemore to a Major League deal to compete for the starting center field job. Sizemore clearly outplayed Bradley in spring training, hitting .310 in 42 at-bats as opposed to Bradley who hit just .158 in 57 spring training at-bats. The answer was clear: Grady Sizemore would be the Boston Red Sox everyday center fielder during the 2014 season. Fortunately for Bradley, Shane Victorino started the the season on the 15-day disabled list due to a hamstring injury. Due to this injury, Bradley made the Opening Day roster. Once Victorino came back, Boston optioned Nava to Pawtucket because he was batting just .149 at the time.
So far this season, Bradley has played a total of 46 games and is batting .193 with no home runs in 145 at-bats along with just a .280 OBP. To put it this way, Bradley’s average is below the Mendoza line, he strikes out once in every less than three at-bats, he has the same OBP he did in 2013, and his offensive WAR is -0.4. Obviously, Bradley is not helping the team with his bat, but his defense on the other hand, is stellar. In 40 games in center field, he has yet to commit an error and leads the league with four assists.
The question still remains: should the Boston Red Sox send Jackie Bradley Jr. down to Pawtucket? There are two sides to this argument and there are believers and doubters. Believers think that Bradley will improve his offensive game and maintain Gold Glove defense in center field whereas doubters see him as a waste of space on the roster. Right now, the Boston Red Sox are in a tough spot where they need to decide whether or not they give Bradley the boot or not, primarily so he can work on his hitting approach.
Realistically, Jackie Bradley Jr. needs to stay on the Red Sox roster for right now at least. Due to a lack of better options, Boston really has no choice at this point but to keep Bradley on the active roster. With Alex Hassan as the only healthy outfielder on the Red Sox 40-man roster not in the Majors, there is no way Bradley gets sent down right now since Hassan struggles defensively in the outfield and he is hitting just .219 in Pawtucket. When Shane Victorino comes back, then Boston has a choice to make. That decision will not come until mid-June however, as Victorino still needs a good deal of time to recover.
When Victorino comes back from his injury, Boston will need to send an outfielder to Pawtucket. The competition to stay on the team between Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Nava will be interesting to watch, and the decision will definitely be performance-based. If Nava gets to a point where he is swinging the bat like he did last season, then Bradley is done for and will get the demotion without a doubt. If Nava does not hit and Bradley keeps on improving his bat while playing great defense, then Nava will get the demotion. Since the competition is performance-based, either way Boston will be getting a solid outfielder on their team.
Overall, Jackie Bradley Jr. seems safe for now, but still needs to improve if he wants to be the Boston Red Sox everyday center fielder. Boston is hurting right now due to his lack of production at the plate, but he is the best Boston has at the moment with Grady Sizemore playing elsewhere. At some point, Bradley will prove he is good enough to start at the Major League level, but until that day comes, he needs to keep fighting to stay on the Red Sox roster.