It's been a long time coming for Milton Bradley.
He was rated the 36th best prospect in the league by Baseball America in 2000, Milton Bradley has felt the weight of expectations on him for a long time. But until 2008, most people have only really thought about two things concerning Milton Bradley: his familiar name and his off-field problems.
People rarely discussed "The Board-Game Guy" as a baseball player. After all, for his first few years in the majors, he did little of note on the field other than be involved in a few memorable altercations with fans, umpires, teammates, and management.
As recently as last season, he was involved in one of the strangest moments in baseball history, as he tore his ACL being restrained by his own manager as Bradley tried to go after umpire Mike Winters, whom Bradley accused of referring to him as "a bleeping piece of (expletive)."
That accident was a microcosm of his career. He flashed some baseball talent by getting on base, only to be undermined by some non-baseball issue and an injury.
Injuries were common in Bradley's career, as he has spent many months on the disabled list in his nine-year career. In fact, because of his torn ACL last season, he was (and still may be) limited heading into this season, causing expectations for him to be low in his first season in Texas.
Rangers manager Ron Washington had other plans, talking up Bradley in Spring Training as a possible cleanup hitter. People took that information with a grain of salt, as not only was Bradley still hurt, but he really hadn't done anything in eight big-league seasons to warrant that talk.
He had posted decent numbers before, notably in 2003, when in 101 games he posted a line of .321/.421/.501 (BA/OBP/SLG). But he never hit 20 home runs in a season, and he never drove in more than 70 runs. How could someone with such pedestrian career numbers who was recovering from a severe injury possibly bat cleanup?
He started off the season hot, and through 56 games so far, his attitude adjustment and his good health have finally allowed him to get an extended look from the beginning of the season.
He has not disappointed.
Exceeding all expectations, Bradley leads the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage (.338/.449/.642). It's only been 56 games, but if Bradley can remain healthy, and that remains a big question mark, then he and Josh Hamilton combine to make the best three-four lineup combination in baseball.
Before one can suggest that this sort of power is a fluke; after all, he was designated for assignment last season by Oakland, keep in mind that he hit 11 home runs in just 144 at-bats last season, when he got a chance with San Diego. 14 home runs in 201 at-bats is not out of line with that projection.
It is realistic for him to put up All-Star type numbers, though likely not at the pace he's at this season. After all, he's over one-tenth of a percentage point
ahead of all American League competition in OPS.
He has, however, shown each of the abilities he's shown this season. He's hit for average, power, and gap power (19 doubles this season, 34 doubles in 377 at-bats in 2003). Never before, however, has he combined all three of those talents with his awesome plate discipline to put together such a great season.
Time will tell if Bradley can maintain his composure or his good health. But for half a season, he's been the best all-around hitter in the American League. It's a shame that unless a drastic shift takes place, he won't be anywhere near being an All-Star starter