Spring Training stats don’t mean much of anything, but the Red Sox couldn’t ignore the .419/.507/.613 batting line Jackie Bradley Jr. put up in camp. With a spare bench spot thanks to David Ortiz‘s continued injury problems, Boston took their 22-year-old wunderkind north and installed him as their everyday left fielder. Manager John Farrell wasn’t joking about the “everyday” part either, he started the left-handed hitting Bradley against CC Sabathia on Opening Day. He was rewarded with three walks in five plate appearances.
Before we go any further, let’s take a second to look back at what our own Marc Hulet said about Bradley this past winter when he ranked him as the Red Sox’s third-best prospect:
The left-handed hitting outfielder reached double-A in his first full season after dominating high-A ball where he posted a 180 wRC+ in 67 games. His batting average dipped below .300 in double-A but he still produced a solid line, showing line-drive pop, a solid feel for the strike zone and held his own against southpaws. He’s not a base stealer but Bradley has some guile on the base paths. Defensively, he has the potential to be a plus defender thanks to his range, arm and instincts. As a talent evaluator stated, “Jackie is an impact defender with uncanny ability to get to the baseball.”
Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Bradley as the team’s second best prospect, saying he is an “on-base machine with quick hands (who) works deep counts and sprays line drives to all fields. He has enough power to hit 10-15 homers annually … He’s an average runner whose speed plays up on the basepaths.”
Last summer, Bradley hit .315/.430/.482 (~156 wRC+) with nine homers, 24 steals, and nearly as many walks (87) as strikeouts (89) in 575 plate appearances split almost evenly between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland. He’s a college kid from a major program (South Carolina, who he helped to two national championships), which is pretty darn good for development. Not as good as professional instructional in the minor leagues, but still pretty good. Skipping over Triple-A isn’t a major jump.
Obviously Bradley’s fantasy value will lies in his batting average, stolen bases, and on-base/runs scored potential. There are a lot of hitter-friendly parks in the AL East, including his new home park, but I wouldn’t count on him to boost your team’s homer total. Here are what the various projection systems are thinking:
Steals and runs are going to have a lot to do with playing time, so it was encouraging to see a) the Red Sox play Bradley against the tough lefty on Opening Day, and b) to see him hold his own at the plate. He put together some very strong at-bats and laid off some tough breaking balls in two-strike counts. It was impressive.
Now, that said, a low-power .250-.270 hitter with a good (but not yet great) OBP and about 20 steals is not a fantasy star, especially as an outfielder. It’s Alejandro De Aza or Denard Span. Useful pieces but not lineup anchors. Could Bradley outperform the projections? Of course, it wouldn’t take much. But I always hedge against rookies. I’d rather miss out on some great performances early than suffer through bad ones hoping for the best.
I think Bradley’s greatest value comes as a trade chip to be honest, especially in non-keeper leagues. I paid $5 for him in our staff ottoneu league — this was after the huge spring and the announcement he made the roster — mostly to have a tradeable prospect. There’s always some disconnect between hype and actual production, especially with big market prospects. It’s just the way it is. Bradley is worth grabbing and won’t kill you as a third outfielder, but his fantasy value will ebb and flow with his batting average. If he hits .300+, he’ll chip in a ton. If he hits .260 … meh.
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