The Jackie Bradley Jr. experiment will likely come to an end in the coming days once David Ortiz is healthy enough to return to the Boston Red Sox.
Boston made the popular decision of promoting Bradley to the big leagues after his monster spring training and when it was apparent that a roster spot would be open due to the array of outstanding injuries. In 28 games, Bradley hit .419/.507/.613 with seven extra-base hits, 12 RBI and 13 runs through spring training.
But while some may have felt that Bradley’s production would carry over once the regular season began, it hasn’t. Not even in the slightest. In the first three games of the season, playing the entire series against the New York Yankees, Bradley went 2-for-10 with four runs and three RBI. Since, over the course of seven games, he’s 1-for-21 with 10 strikeouts.
Among all Red Sox position players, Bradley has been the worst in terms of wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs. In fact, his negative WAR suggests that it would be better if Boston were playing a replacement player instead.
It doesn’t matter if it’s only Bradley’s first 10 games of his young career because the Red Sox need to focus on playing those who give them the best opportunity to win baseball games. That hasn’t been the case when manager John Farrell has written his name on the lineup card.
But despite his recent struggles offensively, Bradley is still upbeat about the future, according to Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe.
“This is one of those periods. Every hitter goes through it,” Bradley said Friday after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays was postponed by rain. “I’m willing to work through it. It’s definitely not going to affect me in the long run.”
The problem for Bradley, however, is that he doesn’t have much time to prove that he belongs in the major leagues.
Ortiz is very close to making it back to Boston and could be back as soon as Friday, according to Evan Drellich of MassLive.com. Once Ortiz returns, though, someone is going to have to be sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket. For now, it appears that the player most likely to get demoted is Bradley.
Ortiz might not be playing on a daily basis once returning, but he’s sure to get the bulk of the at-bats as the designated hitter. Jonny Gomes, who has been DHing frequently in Ortiz’s absence will likely head back into the outfield mix. Daniel Nava, who has been surprisingly good this year, is much too valuable to send down. That leaves Bradley.
Although Bradley’s future might be bright, there’s no way to spin how he’s been playing. “The learning curve is always going to be there,” Bradley told Abraham. “I’d rather face adversity now. People will say, ‘He didn’t waver when he first started.’ I’m seeing the pitches just fine; I’m just missing them. I’ll hit the ball.”
In 38 plate appearances, Bradley has struck out 31.6 percent of the time, the third-highest mark on the team, behind David Ross, who has only played in four games, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. In order to work out the kinks in his swing, which seems to be an inability to hit inside fastballs, he has to be playing every day.
But in order to do so, putting Bradley in a low-pressure environment is the only option. The secret is out among big league pitchers. When he steps up, everyone in the park knows he’s going to get at least a few inside pitches because he just hasn’t hit them yet. Triple-A pitchers may know this information, but at least if Bradley doesn’t adjust immediately, it won’t be on the front page of every Boston-based newspaper.
Alex Speier of WEEI points out that the Red Sox don’t really have another minor league outfielder to replace Bradley, should Boston send him down. Jose Iglesias can’t get called up again yet, and the other options are catchers and Brock Holt, who’s an infielder.
Boston, however, doesn’t really need five outfielders on the 25-man roster. Unless Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes or Daniel Nava gets hurt in the coming days, the four should be more than capable of getting the job done. A fifth outfielder is rather unnecessary.
The logistics of the demotion are beside the point, though. Boston promoted Bradley because it felt that he could make a positive impact on the team through the first handful of games. He hasn’t, and now the Red Sox are forced to send him back to the minors where he can continue to develop into what the team hopes will be a star.