With Opening Day a mere week and change away, Red Sox fans, me included, eagerly await the announcement for who will be on the 2013 Boston Red Sox roster. Eager is a fitting word because an abundant amount of excitement has surrounded one player in particular this spring in Fort Myers, Florida: Jackie Bradley, Jr. The progression of JBJ this

Jackie Bradley, Jr. (Kelly O’Conner — www.sittingstill.net)

spring has gone a bit like this:

  1. Early January: He definitely needs another year in the Minors, specifically in Triple A. We don’t want the Sox to stunt his growth like they did with Craig Hansen. We don’t need to rush him; Ellsbury, Victorino, Gomes, and Nava/Sweeney/Kalish can handle it.
  2. January 28: Did you hear about Ryan Kalish? He is hurt and can’t make it to spring training. Maybe Bradley has a chance to impress us this spring, but he still needs at least half a season in AAA.
  3. February 20 (beginning of Spring Training): Victorino is terrible against RHP so wouldn’t it make sense to give Bradley a shot? You could use a combination of Gomes, Vic, and Bradley throughout the season based on matchups. Well that doesn’t make much sense because if he comes up he needs to be playing every day to continue his progression.
  4. March 11: Bradley goes 3-4 with a HR, 2B, and 2 RBI which bumps his average this spring up to .519. Gomes’s spot in LF is getting hotter.
  5. NOW: Bradley torrid start continues as he is hitting .444 with a .545 OBP while only striking out 5 times in 45 plate appearances. Oh, and he is fast. I think this guy needs to be on the roster. The Sox certainly can find a way to play him 5 of every 7 days.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column on if Daniel Nava was the odd man out of the 13 position players the Red Sox will take on their roster. I argued, albeit incorrectly, that he would not make the team. Note: I actually argued Ryan Sweeney would. How wrong was that? It was very wrong and Bradley was not even on my radar then. Now all signs (Fire Brand’s own Podheiser column included) point to Nava beginning the year in Yankee Stadium. That is all fine and good because Nava is flexible, durable, and gets on base, but let’s face it, Bradley is better.

If Nava makes the squad as the 4th OF then that would leave Mike Carp as the backup 1B. With Ortiz out for the foreseeable future, it makes a lot more sense, as Podheiser alluded to; to put Nava at 1B, let Napoli DH, and then grab Bradley as your 4th OF who can then rotate in with Gomes and Victorino. That leaves Carp as the odd man out. Despite the fact that I just dismantled my February argument, I now think the above scenario is much better.

Now, I’m no expert on baseball prospects and I certainly don’t pretend to be; I leave that to Ben Carsley. Ben may disagree with me, but, COME ON, Bradley HAS to be on the roster on April 1 in Yankee Stadium. Sure he has only one full MiLB season under his belt and is only 22 years old, but his performance this spring plus the lack of excitement/production in the Red Sox outfield speaks for itself. At this point the Red Sox organization, team, and fan base need a spark. I think JBJ is that spark and here is why:

  1. He allows for more lineup flexibility without Ortiz and Stephen Drew in the lineup. Against RHP you can hit Bradley 2nd behind Ellsbury and in front of Pedroia, Napoli, and Middlebrooks. Victorino is the ideal 2 hitter, but his splits against RHP don’t lie; they speak for themselves and they are not good (.698 OPS career).
  2. He will be a weapon off the bench when he is not in the lineup. I assume if Bradley is on the roster against the Yankees a few Monday’s from now he won’t be in the lineup against LHP CC Sabathia. However, he can pinch run (24 SB in 2012), could be a defensive replacement for Gomes, and can pinch hit for Victorino when the Yankees bring in a RHP.
  3. He will hit for a higher average than Victorino or Gomes. That is just a fact.
  4. He has the “cool” factor. Yeah. Think Andrew McCutchen, Troy Tulowitzki cool.
  5. He is hitting .444 right now in Spring Training. Sure, Spring stats don’t count for much and no one places too much stock in them, but anytime someone hits .444 for a month people need to take notice.

Will Bradley make the Opening Day roster? Red Sox Nation eagerly awaits the decision.