The Boston Red Sox are scuffling and there isn’t much reason for hope. The team has done a decent job infusing youth throughout the team, but the veterans aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. Brandon Magee takes a look at Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. to see if he can help this team.
As the Boston Red Sox, losers of five consecutive games out of the All-Star break, continue to stumble towards another basement finish, the call for change has erupted in the Nation. However, after a bevy of moves in the 2015 offseason, the number of parts that can be reasonably changed at this moment is relatively small. The starting right fielder, a position currently manned by Shane Victorino and Alejandro de Aza, is one potential source for immediate change. Jackie Bradley Jr. is putting dibs on that position with his all-star season in Pawtucket.
Bradley Jr. was the 40th pick of the 2011 draft, and he raced through four minor league levels in his first year and a half in the Red Sox system. With an impressive .271/.373/.437 in 61 games in AA Portland to end the 2012 season, Bradley was tapped to start the 2013 season in Boston, skipping the Triple-A level entirely. Bradley walked three times in his Major League debut and followed with hits in his next three games. Unfortunately, his solid start was soon followed by frustration, going 0-for-20, and a demotion to AAA Pawtucket after batting .097/.263/.129 in his first 12 major league contests. Bradley would be called up for three more short stints in Boston during the season and was tasked with significant playing time in September for the eventual World Champions. In the 25 games after his initial call-up, Bradley batted .234/.290/.438 with 4 doubles and 3 HRs.
While his 2013 stretch in Boston was largely forgettable, his 80 games in Pawtucket were very good. Bradley batted .275/.374/.469 for the PawSox, with 26 doubles, 10 HRs and 41 walks. With Jacoby Ellsbury moving to the New York Yankees as a free agent, Bradley was tapped to start the season with Boston as the fourth outfielder. He was soon placed back into the role of starting centerfielder as Grady Sizemore proved ineffective defensively. Bradley started out quickly again, batting .400/.478/.500 in his first eight games. This was soon followed by his first slump of the season, as he hit .116/.255/.163 over his next 13 games. Although Bradley ended April with a four-game hitting streak – going 6-for-15 with 5 extra base hits – he would continue his struggles in May, batting .174/.234/.256 with 29 strikeouts. June was not much better, as Bradley hit .208/.291/.260 for the month.
While Bradley struggled in Boston, the Red Sox organization made contingency plans. On May 18th, Mookie Betts made his first outfield start for the Portland Sea Dogs. While Betts continued to make occasional starts at second base for Portland and (after his promotion in early June) for Pawtucket, it was clear that the Red Sox saw his future in the outfield. Betts was promoted to Boston on June 29th, spending the next two weeks on the major league roster. Bradley, perhaps spurred on by the competition, had an excellent beginning to July, hitting .378/.429/.467 with six multi-hit games from July 1st through July 21st. While this streak led to Betts being demoted to Pawtucket, his futility returned with Mookie away. The next 21 games were awful, with a line of .089/.136/.107 and forced the Red Sox to make the change. Mookie Betts came up to Boston on August 18th to begin his centerfield career in earnest, with Bradley going back down to Pawtucket. Bradley’s forgettable season continued as he batted only .212/.246/.273 for the PawSox in 14 games before receiving a September call-up. To add insult to injury, Bradley went 1-for-36 in September, ending the season with a major league line of .198/.265/.266.
For the first time in three seasons, Bradley was not in the conversation for a 25-man roster spot at the beginning of the 2015 season. Sent to the PawSox to begin the season, Bradley batted .343/.393/.465 with nine doubles in his first 24 games, at which point he got his first call-up to Boston on May 10th. In his brief, two week assignment in Boston, Bradley went 0-11 as he faced Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez and Cy Young Award candidate Sonny Gray. Bradley was optioned back to Pawtucket on May 22nd, and would once again start hitting. In his next 28 games, Bradley hit .299/.400/.467 with nine doubles and three home runs. This streak earned Bradley another call to Boston as Dustin Pedroia hit the DL on June 25th. For the week Bradley was up, he batted .211/.273/.368 with a home run. However, with Shane Victorino coming off the disabled list, Bradley once again traveled back to Pawtucket. In his first fourteen games at Pawtucket, Bradley showed no ill effects, clubbing the ball at a .310/.393/.603 clip with five home runs. Even more impressive, since his return from Omaha and the AAA All-Star Game on July 15th, he has gone 12-for-30 with a pair of two home run games.
Bradley’s defense has also been stellar, committing only two errors in the field while gunning down six runners on the base paths in Pawtucket (he also has one assist for Boston). Last season with Boston, his defense was considered by many to be Gold Glove caliber, with a single error and 13 assists, second only to Yoenis Cespedes in outfield assists in the American League. With Shane Victorino becoming a free agent at the end of the season, Alejandro de Aza being best suited as a fourth outfielder and Brock Holt being the All-Star utility man, there is an opening for a starter in the outfield next season. Given the Red Sox’ start to the second half of the season, the process of determining who may be that third starting outfielder in 2016 should start soon.
While Bradley’s career offensive totals in the major leagues have been disappointing – even in his brief appearances this season – it is easy to forget that Bradley is only 25 years old. It is also clear that his numbers in Pawtucket are not illusory, as he has been a paragon of consistency in his second full season down in Rhode Island. Has Bradley fixed the problems that plagued him at the plate in the majors in 2013 and 2014? Only a starting role in Boston will answer that question.