Red Sox 25 in 25: Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Aug 15, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Seattle Mariners during the second inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 15, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Seattle Mariners during the second inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

The BoSox Injection staff’s preview of the Boston Red Sox 25-man roster continues with a look at Jackie Bradley Jr.

“Play the kids…Let’s see what the kids can do!” These were common sentiments from Red Sox fans about halfway through the season once it became apparent that Boston wasn’t exactly vying for a playoff spot. And for once, that’s just what the Sox brass decided to do. We got a healthy dose of Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Travis Shaw, Blake Swihart, a variety of young arms and of course, Jackie Bradley, Jr. It was a good chance to see just what the top prospects could offer, but it also offered its fair share of frustration as certain players dealt with the growing pains of developing in the Majors.

It was a strange season for Bradley. After a difficult first year in Boston in 2014, the Sox decided it would be best for JBJ to figure things out in Triple-A. He would be called upon sporadically to come up to the big leagues in order to fill in here and there for injured outfielders, but he never truly got a chance to get any confidence or momentum at the plate. He played in six games in May, six games in June and five in July with a batting average of .000, .211 and .100 respectively.

It wasn’t until August that Boston would finally commit to giving Bradley a true chance to get going due to a combination of wanting to give their younger guys a shot along with the fact that they had been one of the worst defensive teams in the league up to that point. JBJ’s defense was truly spectacular, and he put it on display night after night covering a ton of ground in the outfield, making diving catches and throwing runners out on the base paths with ease.

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Bradley was always known for his defensive prowess, but it was his offense in the months of August and September that really started to open eyes. He caught fire at the plate in the month of August. From August 1st to September 6th according to Nicholas Goss on, Bradley had an average of .365 with 27 RBI, 12 doubles, 4 triples and 6 homeruns. The homeruns were a little surprising considering he was never known for his power. In the second half of the season, he hit .267 with an OBP/Slugging/OPS of .352/.539/.891, 9 homeruns and 41 RBI.

It was a turn-around that most fans didn’t see coming, but they certainly embraced. Bradley definitely seems to have a good deal of support heading into 2016. Everyone including fans, analysts and other baseball executives love his ability in the field. Can he keep up what he did at the plate in the second half of 2015 though? Chances are that he was seeing the ball well and in the zone during a time in which the games didn’t exactly matter, however you can’t say that he didn’t have any pressure on him. He knew that if he didn’t perform in those last couple months, his chances to play in Boston and possibly the Majors would head down the drain.

Bradley is arbitration eligible in 2017, but he is under Boston’s control until at least 2021. Still, next season may be the last time the Red Sox are willing to trot him out there as a starting outfielder. Historically, they are not the most patient organization due to the demands of the fan base and coming off of two straight last place finishes, the leash may not be long on any player.

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They also signed outfielder Chris Young during the offseason to fill the role of fourth outfielder, however he will most likely be getting more time than most fourth outfielders around the league. BoSox Injection’s very own Sean Penney discussed Young’s role earlier this week. During WEEI’s Hot Stove Show last week, John Farrell said Young “signed here under the notion that he’s going to get every at-bat against left-handed pitching.” However, it’s interesting to note, as MassLive’s Christopher Smith pointed out, “Bradley actually posted reverse-splits at the major league level last year, batting .306/.390/.528/.918 against southpaws compared to .221/.308/.483/.791 against right-handed hurlers.”

In regards to Bradley in particular, Farrell did go on to say:

“To sit here in early January and say that every left-hander, Jackie’s not going to play, I wouldn’t go that far, because there might be some things that crop up, a day for Rusney, a day for Mookie might be advantageous, so we’ll take the best matchups and keep everybody involved. The way Jackie swung the bat when he came back up from the minor leagues was really a positive and encouraging sign. We know he’s going to play premium type of defense, but still, you look at the long-term track record of both he and Rusney, there’s some checkered past early in their careers. We like the abilities, we’ve got some depth, and we can keep some guys from getting overexposed. The overall athleticism is certainly a plus in the group of four.”

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It’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s clear the JBJ is in their plans to start the season and get significant playing time. It’s probably now or never for Bradley in Boston. While there were trade rumors throughout the offseason with Bradley’s name attached to them, it seems that the Sox aren’t ready to give up on him yet. With his ability in the field to make plays and a strong emphasis from the team on defense after last season’s debacle, he doesn’t need to set the world on fire on offense. If he can muster an average of .225 with about 60 RBI combined with his defense, I truly believe the Sox will take it. By the end of 2016, we’ll most likely know if Bradley will be with Boston for the long term.