You have to feel for the young man. You work your way up into the big leagues, in front of the best fans in all of professional baseball, only to see the team’s front office make moves that almost guarantee that you will never see the field again.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of the odd men out, looking into the Boston Red Sox’ outfield logjam. The 24-year-old, native of Virginia was once drafted by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, and made it to Boston in 2013 for 37 games, only to find the pine to be likely his most consistent position in the 2015 season. That is, if he stays with the club.
The last two seasons have not been incredible achievements for Bradley. Not that anyone else on the Red Sox was burning up the hit charts, but Bradley hit .198 in 127 games last season, with a .265 on-base percentage. You cannot even say that time is on Bradley’s side. Even if Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino go down with injuries, Bradley still cannot compete with Mookie Betts or Brock Holt, both of whom have recently made an impact with the Red Sox out of the minors. In 2014, Betts hit .291, with a .368 OBP, in 52 games; Holt hit .281, with a .331 OBP in 106 games. All three young men were impressive with their gloves, so the relevant comparison is at the plate, and, so far, Bradley is distinctly behind.
According to the Red Sox’ official website, Bradley’s name only appears once on the depth chart, a noticeable third place in center field, behind Rusney Castillo and Betts. While a depth chart in January is hardly that reliable in April, it does show the fact that the Red Sox have their minds in other directions than Bradley’s, going into spring training. Castillo’s time with Boston was a short 10 games, yet he hit two home runs, six RBIs, and had a .528 slugging percentage. The kid hits a ton, which is more than you can say for Bradley’s .266 type of stroke.
Bradley’s plate appearances spelled more like a trip to Pawtucket than a spot on the roster. He struck out 121 times to only 31 walks, making it really hard for him to prove his speed on the base paths, when he is not even on first. If you can call it a positive, Bradley did hit more groundball outs than he flied out (1.30 ratio). That result comes from his talent for making contact, which Bradley made 74.9% of the time he swung at any pitch. The problem is that his swinging strike total was 11.7%, meaning those strikeouts came from watching the pitch hit the opposing catcher’s mit in the strikezone, frequently. It’s one thing to have plate discipline by waiting for your pitch, but Bradley needs to work on what that pitch is and be willing to try his luck more often.
Bradley has talent, but it just might not be enough this season for the Red Sox. Maybe, with dominoes settling in Boston, the lay of the land will be more distinct to make a judgement on his future. Then again, if another club sees some of the talent that Beantown did in Bradley in 2011, maybe he will be a part of a deal. With Allen Craig being openly a part of numerous trade rumors, Bradley may also be part of a packaged trade for an ace in the starting rotation or more proven support in the bullpen. Whatever the case, it has to be tough on the young man, so close to his dream and yet so far.
** All batting statistics were found on www.fangraphs.com