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June 25, 2012 at 7:30 AM

The Book: Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Date: June 4-6, 2012; June 21, 2012
Team: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs

Line: High A- 6 for 12, 4 singles, 2 doubles, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk
Double-A- 1 for 4, 1 single, 1 walk, 1 strikeout

Defense: Bradley plays an outstanding center field. With excellent instincts, sound judgment, and crisp routes, he glides after balls hit out his way. Despite not possessing elite speed Bradley has above-average range in center, capable of covering a lot of ground into both gaps. He showed off his range on multiple occasions during my chance to scout him with Salem. What jumps out when watching him hunt down fly balls is the ease he shows in tracking them and how he gets very quick reads at the crack of the bat. He seems to move at the first instant of contact. Bradley made three running plays on deep drives into the gap that looked easy, despite the degree of difficulty. He also knows when he has to turn on his speed to close in on the ball and when to choke it down to make sure he is in the proper position to make the play. Bradley rarely looks pushed when tracking fly balls and is very polished overall defensively. He grades as a well-above average defender. While Bradley was not challenged to make any throws during my look in Salem, he showed off his arm during a follow-up chance after his promotion to Double-A. First positioning himself well to get his weight behind the ball on a deep fly ball to dead center, Bradley unleashed a throw with his heels up against the warning track on the fly to third base. The throw was a bit off target, but the arm strength was impressive. His arm grades as plus-to-better and should allow him to consistently challenge runners trying to take an extra base or cut down runners looking to score.

Approach: Bradley’s ability to work counts and identify pitches quickly out of opposing pitchers’ hands are key strengths for him at the plate. He also brings a plan to the plate, which shows when watching him hit. Bradley consistently worked into fastball counts or went deep into sequences during the three games with Salem, enabling him to sit back and use his hands to drive through the baseball. He took strikes in hitter’s counts on balls he could not handle and was not afraid to hit with two strikes. Bradley also rarely expanded his zone, showing a sound understanding of his strike zone. He pulled all of the hard-hit balls he put into play, but it was showing that he was in need of a greater challenge. Bradley controlled his plate appearances in this look with ease. During the scouting opportunity in Double-A, he brought the same exact approach to the game and looked identical in how he thinks through at-bats. Bradley jumped all over the first pitch of the game, a fastball, to line a hard single to right field. He knew exactly what was coming and that the opposing pitcher was going to try to get ahead to start the game. After that, he methodically worked through his other plate appearances. However, there is some work needed with how he covers the outer third of the plate. The couple of balls he went the other way with were in the middle of the plate and Bradley can neglect to cover the outside with his eyes, usually zoning in middle-to-in. He does not hit ones away from him all that well presently.

Take: Bradley has a lot of polish in his game. When I first saw him after signing he was not letting loose with his swing as much and was feeling out professional pitching. He looked noticeably different in spring training, and the extended follow-up opportunity was a good chance to see the progress with his entire package as a professional. The defense is easily major league caliber. Bradley can become one of the better center fielders at the big league level and I do not see it as a stretch to say he has the ability to win multiple Gold Gloves during the peak of his career. He plays a very fundamentally sound center field and it is tough to get one past him in the air. Bradley goes back on the ball very well and can reach for another gear when he either has to close quickly or charge the ball. The way he both fluidly glides to the ball and always seems to be in the proper position highlights his instincts for the defensive game. Bradley will be the type of defender who makes difficult plays look easy, while rarely having to leave his feet to make plays because of the judgment and precise routes he takes. Given his smaller frame, I do not see him filling out much more, which should allow him to keep his quickness as long as he stays diligent in his off-season routine when entering his mid-to-late twenties.

Power will not be a large part of Bradley’s offensive game. I see him being a single digit home run hitter at the big league level, especially if he ends up playing half his games at Fenway Park. This puts the emphasis on his hit tool continuing to develop, while staying within the approach he is currently showing. Bradley has the hit tool to round into a plus hitter for average at the major league level and hit .300 or better in a peak season or two. He shows the type of quick hands to control the barrel of the bat and square balls up with backspin to be a consistent high-contact .280s hitter, who plugs gaps. Bradley does need some work keeping his hands inside of the baseball against fastballs on the inner third. He tends to dive out into the ball, which leaves him susceptible to hard fastballs inside and at the tops of his thighs to above. Bradley drives balls in the middle of the plate well, either turning on them to whip the bat through the zone or use his hands to drive them the other way, but often gets jammed middle-in. He can also hook balls away from him. Bradley got away with this against the less advanced pitching in High A during my scouting look. In Double-A and beyond, he will need to be careful not to roll over offerings in this area and cover the plate better with his swing. Presently, advanced pitchers have some spots where they can consistently work him.

My looks the rest of the season with Portland will be geared towards zoning in on how these aspects of his game are trending against the increased level of competition. Bradley is a solid prospect. I see his ceiling as a top-of-the-order hitter, who produces a lot of contact, steals some bases, and plays a well-above average center field. There may be an All-Star game or two in his future as well. Bradley’s makeup is also a key ingredient and he is a player who has a certain look as he goes about his business. There is a lot of drive to reach that ceiling. Bradley has made nice strides since first seeing him and with continued progress looks likely to be ready to make contributions at the major league level in late 2013 or early 2014.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen