As the Red Sox prepared for the 2013 season, Ben Cherington’s plan was to have Jackie Bradley Jr. start the year at Triple-A to get regular playing time.
Whenever Bradley does get a chance to be a full-time player in Boston he will be fully capable of replacing fan-favorite Jacoby Ellsbury.
However, Bradley seems more poised as spring training continues in sunny Florida.
With Ellsbury’s future in question, particularly since his agent is Scott Boras, Bradley is being groomed as his replacement.
The main reason why Bradley is capable of joining the big club now is his defense. Rick Doyle of NESN says the centerfielder is ready because of the “Great instincts he’s shown and the impressive routes he’s taken to the baseball in center field—staples in Bradley’s all-around defensive game."
Fans have come to love the flashy plays that Ellsbury exhibits, but Bradley is actually a better defensive player now at just 22 years old than Ellsbury is at 29, with the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo saying, “His jumps on the ball in the outfield are phenomenal.”
Ellsbury may be able to take it to another gear, particularly as a base stealer. But defensively, Bradley is far more advanced and plays center field with a degree of intelligence that is hard to match.
Part of the reason for Bradley’s defensive prowess is his commitment to practicing his craft.
In a profile of the top-prospect, WEEI's Alex Speier said:
While most fellow players cluster into small groups and engage in casual chatter with teammates, grabbing the occasional flyball that happens to fall into their gloves, Bradley stands alone in center field. His focus on the hitter in the cage for round after round of batting practice is encompassing. For him, it is as if the outfield grass is a sacred expanse that requires defense against any encroaching baseballs.
While his defense is major league ready, Bradley’s bat isn’t far behind.
While Ellsbury stole more bases than Bradley (64 versus 24), Bradley seems ready for the next level.
The South Carolina product has a great approach at the plate and he showed gap power by hitting 43 doubles in just 138 games. In Ellsbury’s first two seasons in the minors, he hit just 20 doubles in 146 games.
Bradley has been off to a blazing hot start in spring training, going 8-for-14 (.571) and even though pitchers aren’t on top of their game, that has to be encouraging.
Part of the affinity for Ellsbury has been the power he flashed and the elite base-stealing capability.
Bradley doesn’t look like he has the power potential or the elite speed that Ellsbury possesses, but he has an advanced approach at the plate which will translate well to the majors, and he has the capability of being an above-average base-stealer as a pro.
While Scott Boras is his agent, Bradley has a first-class attitude saying, “You always want to do the right thing, especially hustling at all times. You don’t want to take any plays off. That time you take a play off, they’re going to see it. Hustling, backing up plays and just showing them that you want to play hard.”
So is Bradley ready? Maybe.
However, it would be break precedent as he has yet to play a single game in Triple-A, and the Red Sox are very deliberate with developing prospects.
The last time the Red Sox rushed a prospect they didn’t like the end results. Craig Hansen who was drafted in the first round in 2005 made his major league debut just three months later.
This was an extreme case, but since then the Red Sox have been extremely cautious with prospects, sometimes too cautious.
For everyone that wants to see Bradley in Boston to start the season my advice to you would be pump the brakes, there is no rush.
The 2013 team doesn’t look like a World Series contender and it is more important that Bradley gets regular playing time in Triple-A versus spot starts in the majors.
Also, by sending Bradley back to Triple-A to start the season, it will extend his team control.
If Jonny Gomes or Shane Victorino show that they cannot be everyday players and management can guarantee that Bradley were to play at least three out of five games in the majors, then I can see him being called up prior to September.
However, don’t expect to see Bradley and top-prospect Xander Bogaerts until rosters expand.
Bradley will be worth the wait.