By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Outfielder, Boston Red Sox
2015 season (Majors): 74 G, 221 AB, .249 BA, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 3 SB, .832 OPS
Entering the 2013 season, Jackie Bradley Jr. was one of the Red Sox top prospects, and his debut with Boston that season was highly anticipated after a terrific Spring Training. Since then, it’s been anything but an easy road to stardom for Bradley as his struggles to hit at the Major League level have been severe. Entering the ‘16 season, three years after playing his first game with the Red Sox, it appears that road is finally paved.
Ranked as the No. 31 prospect in MLB by Baseball America entering 2013, Bradley had an impressive Spring and made the Opening Day roster. After a good opening series against the Yankees, it seemed as though Bradley’s transition to the Majors may be easy. It was all downhill from there, however, as he went 1-for-21 following that first set and went back down to the Minors.
Bradley wore out the road to Triple-A Pawtucket and back the rest of that season, finishing his first year with a .189 average in just 37 games in Boston. He was able to stick with the Red Sox for most of 2014, but the results were mixed. Bradley was able to establish himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball that season with a UZR (ultimate zone rating) of 15.9, good for seventh in baseball. At the plate, it was an entirely different story. Using the wRC+ metric in which 100 is average, Bradley managed a nearly impossibly bad 46, which ranked him dead last in all of baseball had he had enough plate appearances to qualify (he was 79 short).
Things were not going much better last year, as he spent most of his time early in the year down at Pawtucket. On Aug. 9 he was hitting .121/.254/.172. From that day on, he hit .294/.366/.613. In that 50-game span, he hit nine home runs and 17 doubles with 39 RBIs. Something finally clicked, and Bradley found his stroke.
Bradley simplified his stride at the plate, getting rid of a toe tap he previously used. It worked at the end of last year, now the question is, will it continue to work? The Red Sox seem to be set with him as their starting center fielder in an impressive outfield with Rusney Castillo in left and Mookie Betts in right.
The 25-year-old left-handed hitter is never going to be a threat to hit 30 home runs or steal 30 bases. His highest home run total is 10 from last season and Triple-A in 2013. His highest stolen base total is 16 with Class A Advanced Salem in 2012. Considering his incredible defense, the Red Sox don’t need him to mash from the No. 9 spot in the lineup, but they need him to not be the worst hitter in baseball like he was close to being in ‘14. Should Bradley maintain his stride from his final 50 games last year and expand that over a full season without falling back into any bad habits, he can really expand Boston’s lineup from the bottom and cement himself as the Red Sox center fielder of the future.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.