FORT MYERS, Fla. — Last spring training, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. surprised everyone in the Boston Red Sox organization and broke camp with the major league club.
This year a lot more is expected from Bradley, who turns 24 on April 19.
Bradley, a former Portland Sea Dog, is expected to be in center field on opening day, taking the place of Jacoby Ellsbury, who departed for the New York Yankees in free agency. Bradley said it will be difficult replacing Ellsbury, one of the game’s most dynamic players.
“That’s the thing, I can’t be him. I can only be me because that’s who I am,” Bradley said. So I don’t really focus on the whole comparison thing. I just try to be the best ballplayer I can be. And that’s all anybody can ask for, just be yourself. And if that ain’t good enough, then I don’t know what is.”
Bradley, who wasn’t even on the 40-man roster, was so good in camp last year, hitting .419 in 28 games, that he became the first Red Sox player to skip Triple-A and start in the majors on opening day since Shea Hillenbrand in 2001.
But Bradley, a supplemental pick in 2011 (40th overall) out of the University of South Carolina, struggled in the big leagues. After 12 games he was hitting .097 and was demoted to Triple-A.
In all he served four stints last season with the Red Sox, batting .189 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 37 games, playing all three outfield positions.
It was a learning experience for Bradley. But through it all he remained positive.
“Yeah, for sure it was definitely different, especially getting a shot to start in the big leagues with only being a year removed from playing a full season,” said Bradley. “I showed them what I was capable of. But it was one of those things where you can get equally hot and equally cold. But everything evens out.”
In 14 games in September, he hit .243, making 10 starts.
“I think the thing he’s expressed in the early days of being down here is he’s aware a little bit more of what to expect,” said Manager John Farrell. “I think what he went through last year is very common for a young player, and it’s maybe to struggle for the first time and yet it’s at the major league level, and how they respond to that is key. He was humbled but at the same time he came out of it and finished the year on an upswing.”
In January the Red Sox added Grady Sizemore, whose All-Star career was curtailed by injuries. He hasn’t played a game at any level since September 2011.
The Red Sox believe if Sizemore can return to a semblance of his former self, he can provide valuable depth on their roster — and competition for Bradley.
Bradley embraces the acquisition.
“It just means we have another great player on our squad,” Bradley said. “Grady’s a great ballplayer. I’m glad to have him on the team because I’ll be able to pick his brain, learn from him just like I did from Jacoby. â€¦ And hopefully he learns things from me as well. That’s what teammates do, we learn from each other in order to get each other better.”