Boston Red Sox prized outfield prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. has attracted a lot of attention this spring with his torrid play. Despite the desire to not rush him, it’s become clear he must start the season in the majors.
At the beginning of camp, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Bradley, a 2011 first-round draft choice, would be sent to the minors for more seasoning. But, his continued stellar play and recent developments with the big league roster are more than sufficient reasons to alter those plans.
A major reason why Bradley should be on Boston’s Opening Day roster is because designated hitter David Ortiz, the team’s longest-tenured player and best all-around hitter, is expected to miss at least the start of the season.
The 37-year-old slugger has played in only one game since last July 16 after suffering a partial tear of his Achilles. Even though he’s been shut down from all but the most basic activities this spring, he recently told the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber that “I’m not there yet,” when asked if he would be ready to start the season.
Ortiz has essentially been away from baseball for more than eight months. It’s unreasonable to think he will be able to pick up on the 1.026 OPS he posted in 90 games last year anytime soon.
Bradley has forced his way into being the answer to the question of who will replace Ortiz.
The 22-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder isn’t a power hitter, but is the best offensive option the team has to fill Ortiz’s big shoes.
Entering Sunday, Bradley has hit .457 with a .568 OBP in 16 spring training games, impressing manager John Farrell as much with his bat as his outstanding defense, according to The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo.
There is concern that Bradley, who has 138 career minor league games to his credit, is too inexperienced to play in the majors. Additionally, if the Red Sox wait to call him up after April 12, it would tack an additional year on to his free agency clock, and he wouldn’t be eligible to hit the open market until 2019.
Who would be the best replacement for Ortiz?
Those are both foolish arguments.
The Red Sox have been in the top-five of MLB team payrolls every year since 2004, according to StevetheUmp.com. While having Bradley under team control for an extra year could be a great asset, having to pay him earlier isn’t going to bankrupt the team either.
There is no prescribed amount of time a player needs to develop in the minors. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were all drafted out of high school and successfully transitioned to the majors after limited exposure in their teams’ systems.
Bradley not only was a highly regarded high draft pick, but played three years of baseball at the University of South Carolina, which is one of the best programs in the country.
WEEI’s Rob Bradford recently reported that Bradley is still a possibility to break camp with the Red Sox.
Farrell told Bradford that the decision could come down to whether the youngster can get regular at-bats:
The bottom line would be, when any young player, whether it’s Jackie or any young position player, when they come to the big leagues, you want to be sure they get regular at-bats. If those are there, that becomes part of the equation. Most importantly, he’s doing whatever he can to impact the decision.
The desire to give Bradley regular at-bats is understandable, as having a young player of his caliber sitting on the bench would be a waste.
If Ortiz does start the season on the disabled list, other candidates to replace him include the uninspiring Mauro Gomez, Lyle Overbay and Ryan Lavarnway.
Bradley has a dynamic ability to get on base and disrupt pitchers, with a career .311/.423/.896 batting average/OBP/OPS split in the minors. Adding someone of that ability to the lineup would give Boston a weapon with the best chance to replace Ortiz, who has a .285/.380/.928 career split of his own.
The scenario that makes the most sense if Ortiz is out would be starting Bradley in left field and using Jonny Gomes as the primary designated hitter. Bradley plays much better defense than Gomes, who has hit just .223 against right-handers during his 10-year career, and could be used more judiciously depending on matchups.
Bradley’s poise and maturity have also impressed many.
While the prospect must be itching to get his shot, The Boston Globe’s Christoper Gasper wrote he is taking nothing for granted, as Bradley explained, “Hopefully, I can live up to all their expectations... I’m going to keep playing hard and hopefully things go my way.”
The Red Sox would undoubtedly like to have Ortiz with them at the start of the season, but that doesn’t look like a good possibility at this point. It’s time for the team to move forward and use Bradley because he is one of their best young assets and ready to make his own mark in the major leagues.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference