The Boston Red Sox have a number of prospects, including center fielder of the future Jackie Bradley Jr, who are on the horizon and nearly ready for their Fenway Park debut.
Although Jacoby Ellsbury currently patrols center field for Boston, it’s possible that he will not be with the team by the time the 2014 season rolls around because of possibly being traded or his impending free agency. If that happens, it won’t be because of the flak he has taken for past injuries. It will be because of the emergence of Bradley, who is just about ready for the major leagues.
Bradley, who turns 23 this April, was Boston’s supplemental first-round draft pick in 2011 out of the University of South Carolina. According to MLB.com’s Chris Cox, the youngster received comparisons to Jim Edmonds, and may have been taken higher in the draft if not for a wrist injury.
Bradley played in just 10 minor league games in 2011, but exploded in last season, hitting a combined .315 with nine home runs, 63 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 128 games split between High-A and Double-A. His .430 OBP was tops amongst all Boston’s minor leaguers.
When will Bradley get a chance to regularly play in Boston?
The left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing Bradley has a compact swing that produces a lot of extra base hits (55 in 2012) but only moderate power. However, his unique ability to get on base makes him quite the offensive weapon.
He is also flashy with the glove, being named Boston’s Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in 2012.
Bradley doesn't just rely on pure athletic ability on defense. He also meticulously prepares, as he told ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes:
I like to get reads. I want to know the field, know the weather, certain obstacles maybe. Get the feel for how my legs are that day, what I'm capable of. That's how I prepare.
Fellow outfield prospect Bryce Brentz marvels at Bradley’s skills in the field, describing the experience of playing next to him to The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham:
He floats, that’s the best way I can describe it. Jackie gets an amazing jump on the ball. I loved playing with him. You don’t see too many center fielders as good as he is.
Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett expressed to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber how the organization has been impressed by Bradley’s rapid development and maturity:
The reports coming in were, he was a guy that had a lot of attention in college and had to learn to deal with some of that. But he has continued that same demeanor and that same focus on what he needs to do. He wants to be an impact big leaguer.
Bradley was one of 11 Red Sox prospects to be invited to the team’s recent week-long rookie development program, according to the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman. The program prepares the players for the rigors of the major leagues, and being invited is a none-too-subtle hint that Boston really likes their young center fielder.
Bradley’s future may be up in the air until Boston decides what to do with Ellsbury. Despite the injuries, the veteran has the talent to be one of the most dynamic players in the game, and could be re-signed if he has a big year in 2013.
For his part, Bradley isn't sweating when he will get his opportunity. As he told Edes, he will continue putting in the work and trust that good things will happen from there:
I like to say we all run our own race. You can't be going off into different races, somebody else's lane. You have to stay in your lane, stay focused, work hard, and everything will work out the way it's supposed to work out.
So far, the Red Sox have resisted using Bradley as a trade chip to acquire established major league stars like R.A. Dickey, Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton. Even if Ellsbury ends up sticking around, Bradley’s talent will dictate that he has a spot somewhere on Boston’s roster.
It’s clear that Bradley’s blend of talent and hard work have propelled him to doorstep of the major leagues, making him ready for his opportunity when it comes—which should be very soon.
Statistics via BaseballReference