March 23, 2013

Bradley gives Red Sox a major dilemma

Jackie Bradley Jr. has made a huge push to open the year in Boston, but would it be the right move?

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Look at the mess Jackie Bradley Jr. created.

Jackie Bradley Jr.
click image to enlarge

Jackie Bradley Jr. will turn 23 in April – the same age as three other recent Sox players when they hit the majors.

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THE RED SOX KIDS

Jackie Bradley Jr. is being considered for a major league roster spot despite his relative inexperience as a pro. Below are three other young players who zipped through the minor league system, stopping in Portland on their way to Boston. Will Middlebrooks spent the longest time in the minors because he was drafted out of high school. The others came out of college.

DUSTIN PEDROIA

Total minor league at-bats: 1,040

Double-A at-bats: 256

Triple-A at-bats: 627

Age at major league debut: 23

JACOBY ELLSBURY

Total minor league at-bats: 1,017

Double-A at-bats: 271

Triple-A at-bats: 363

Age at major league debut: 23

WILL MIDDLEBROOKS

Total minor league at-bats: 1,551

Double-A at-bats: 371

Triple-A at-bats: 149

Age at major league debut: 23

JACKIE BRADLEY JR.

Total minor league at-bats:  499

Double-A at-bats: 227

Triple-A at-bats: 0

Current age: 22 (23 on April 19)

If everything went according to plan, Bradley would have returned to minor league camp by now, possibly back to the Portland Sea Dogs.

But no. Bradley entered the Boston Red Sox major league camp this spring and did what he's done everywhere he goes: impress the bejesus out of everyone.

In Portland last year, Bradley created a jaw-dropping buzz at Hadlock Field with the way he roamed center field, ran the bases without fear and stepped to the plate with a know-how beyond his 22 years.

And he's doing it again in spring training. Through Friday, Bradley was batting .429 while effortlessly tracking down balls in the outfield.

"He's more polished than I first anticipated," Manager John Farrell said. "For a guy who has got just one full year in the minor leagues, his decision-making on the field, his approach at the plate is very consistent.

"And his reads and routes in center field are on the spot."

So instead of the Red Sox figuring out whether Bradley should go to Double-A Portland or Triple-A Pawtucket, they have to decide if Bradley will join the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium for the April 1 opener.

"It's hard to ignore what he's done this spring," General Manager Ben Cherington said.

Bradley was drafted out of the University of South Carolina in 2011. He played all of 10 minor league games with the Red Sox that year until splitting last season between advanced Class A Salem and Portland.

Other prospects have reached the majors in their second full pro season -- namely Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia -- but not at the start of the year.

In 2006, Ellsbury split time between advanced Class A and Portland. In 2007, the Red Sox sent Ellsbury back to Portland. He reached Boston that season and was almost a World Series MVP (7 for 16, four doubles).

Bradley came into this camp not knowing what to expect. He only wanted to play hard.

"Everyone comes into spring training looking to compete, no matter where you want to go," Bradley said. "And if it's up in the air, you want to push the envelope and try to get them to make a decision.

"That's pretty much what I came here wanting to do, show them that I have gotten better in the offseason. I came back more mature and ready to play."

POTENTIAL IN PORTLAND

When Bradley got to Portland on June 21, he got hot quickly, batting .327 through July 16. He eventually cooled to finish at .271 (though with a .373 on-base percentage and .437 slugging percentage).

"Just fatigue," Bradley said. "It was my first full season and I didn't know what to expect toward the end. It just wears on you. This year I'll have a better understanding how to treat my body and how to go about things."

So far, so good. The left-handed hitting Bradley is not only batting well, he's doing it against anyone -- .433 (13 for 30) vs. right-handers, and .421 (8 for 19) vs. lefties.

Initially it looked like there was no room for Bradley, no matter how well he played. Boston has Ellsbury in center field, Johnny Gomes in left and Shane Victorino in right.

"It doesn't make too much sense to be on the team if it's not an everyday or close-to-an-everyday role," Cherington said.

But then designated hitter David Ortiz's recovery from an Achilles tendon injury has taken longer than expected. Ortiz will almost certainly begin this season on the disabled list.

(Continued on page 2)

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