Xander Bogaerts has been the focal point of the majority of articles, analyses and conversations about Red Sox prospects for the past four months.
You don’t have to watch Bogaerts for very long to see that such attention is certainly warranted, and it’s been fun to see the palpable excitement throughout Red Sox Nation as the 20-year-old shortstop begins his MLB career.
Yet while Bogaerts has long been considered the best prospect in the Red Sox system, there was another player who stole most of the headlines before the season began. That seems like so long ago now that it’s easy to forget, but through Spring Training and the season’s first few weeks, no prospect received more attention than Jackie Bradley Jr.
Now that September call-ups are around the corner, it’s time to start paying attention to Bradley again.
We all know how Bradley’s story played out: after a ridiculously good spring, Bradley made the MLB roster when camp broke and everyone lost their collective minds. Oddly enough, the man with just 271 Double-A PA was not ready for primetime and hit a whopping .097 in April before being sent down in early May. In eight games in June and July, Bradley was recalled to the majors and faired a little better, collecting five hits (two homers) and a walk in 23 PA, but was sent back down to Pawtucket nonetheless.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava have been so good – and Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes so solid – that Sox fans haven’t missed Bradley much. With all eyes on Bogaerts in the majors and the hype surrounding Garin Cecchini and Henry Owens in the minors, Bradley has become somewhat lost amid the prospect riches in the Sox’ system.
I have a feeling he’s about to make himself noticed once again, though, as I’d argue there’s no September addition more likely to make a significant MLB impact with the Sox than will Bradley.
In 341 Triple-A at-bats this season, Bradley has put up a stat line that I feel as though accurately represents the type of player he can be in the majors. The 23-year-old is hitting .271/.373/.437 with six steals and a wRC++ of 138. I’m not sure the power will play quite that much in the majors, but at the same time, I’d expect his 50% SB success rate to climb as well. Regardless, this is a good sample of what Bradley can be: an above league average starter in center field.
That’s not the role he’ll play if called up in September, of course, but Bradley’s skill set gives the Red Sox a ton of options, as well as the chance to rest some key players down the stretch. Let’s break down the primary reasons Bradley can be valuable next month:
1) Defense: Bradley is a special defender. He’s not Jose Iglesias but he’s a Grade 70 talent in center field and can defend all three outfield spots with above average range and ridiculous instincts.
The Red Sox already have two plus-defenders in Ellsbury and Victorino, but while Nava’s been solid in left field, Gomes and Carp leave something to be desired. A late inning outfield alignment of Bradley – Ellsbury – Victorino wouldn’t just be good: it would be among the elite defensive units in the game.
2) Baserunning: As I alluded to above, Bradley has some work to do on the bases as he’s gone just six-for-12 in stolen base attempts this season. He does possess slightly above average speed, though, and has been praised for his base running acumen in the past.
With Iglesias now in Detroit, the Red Sox really don’t have a bench player who makes an ideal pinch runner. We’ve seen Daniel Nava tried in the role a few times this year, but generally that’s just resulted in some TOOTBLANs. While Bradley is far from the Dave Roberts-type burner the Sox have been able to rely on in the past, he’s an upgrade nonetheless.
3) Hitting: Sometimes this gets lost thanks to Bradley’s defense, but the man is hardly helpless at the plate. The Sox have a ton of good left-handed hitting on the roster, so I don’t think this is primarily how Bradley will be used, but he’s more than capable of grinding out at-bats and getting on base.
If the Red Sox were facing a righty who was truly death to same-side hitters (think
Justin Masterson), they could potential throw out a lineup with Ellsbury, Bradley, David Ortiz, Carp, Stephen Drew, Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all hitting from the left-side of the plate. That’s not including Victorino, who could become healthy enough to start hitting lefty again in the coming weeks. And that brings me to my last point …
4) Letting others rest: Ellsbury has played in 122 of 132 games this season, putting him on pace to play in the third-most games of his career. Victorino’s struggles with health this season have been well chronicled, and while you have to admire his willingness to trudge out there everyday, a fully healthy Victorino would be a big asset to the Sox in the playoffs.
This isn’t rocket science, but the addition of Bradley will likely let John Farrell rest Ellsbury and Victorino a bit more than he’d be able to otherwise. If the Sox are facing weaker competition or face a long stretch of consecutive games, there’s little harm in letting Bradley roam center and bat ninth. That he’ll essentially be the fifth or sixth outfielder on the team is pretty remarkable.
Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Brock Holt and others all figure to help the Sox a bit down the stretch as well. Boston is going to be operating from a position of strength here, and I think some “kids” will play prominent roles as the Red Sox look to lock up an AL East title.
None figure to have quite so much impact as Bradley, though. Hopefully, he’ll provide us with a glimpse of what we can expect from him in the years to come.