November 7, 2013 at 9:00 AM
This week, SoxProspects.com wraps up its season-end countdown of the top 40 prospects in the system, recapping their seasons and previewing what's ahead in 2014. You can find all of the entries in this year's series here.
#2: Jackie Bradley, Jr., OF
2013 Team: Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
Final Stats: 374 PA, .275/.374/.469, 26 2B, 3 3B, 10 HR, 41 BB, 75 SO, 7 SB (minors)
107 PA, .189/.280/.337, 5 2B, 3 HR, 10 BB, 31 SO, 2 SB (majors)
Pre-2013: Bradley was projected to be a high first-round draft pick coming out of South Carolina in 2011 following a year in which he earned Most Outstanding Player honors in the College World Series, but a torn ligament in his wrist caused him to slump to a .259/.361/.468 line that season, dropping his draft stock. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Bradley dropped to the supplemental first round, where the team drafted him with the 40th pick overall. The outfielder signed for a $1.1 million bonus that August, and appeared in 10 games between Lowell and Greenville that season to get a taste of pro ball.
The Red Sox challenged Bradley with an assignment to High A Salem in 2012, and Bradley met that challenge sans obstacles, as hit .359/.480/.526 with 26 doubles, 52 walks and 40 strikeouts in 304 plate appearances prior to his promotion to Double-A Portland on June 20. He led the Carolina League in average, on-base percentage, and OPS at the time he was promoted, becoming one of the hottest hitters in the minors in addition to playing otherworldly defense in center field. He continued his dominance to start in Portland, hitting .384/.446/.507 through his first 18 games in 83 plate appearances, but crashed hard with a five-game hitless streak and his numbers for the rest of the season (.245/.359/.453) showed a player who was having some success but may have been feeling the effects of his first full pro season.
2013 Season in Review: Few thought much of Bradley getting an invite to major league spring training, but after a few weeks, he was the talk of camp. After he hit .419/.507/.613 in 28 Spring Training contests, he made the Red Sox opening day roster with David Ortiz starting the season on the disabled list, setting unrealistic expectations that he was unable to meet. In 10 games as the club’s starting left fielder, Bradley went just 3 for 31 with six walks, striking out 12 times before heading back to Pawtucket when Ortiz was activated on April 19. Bradley wound up getting three more calls to Boston—in late May/early June, early July, and September—and he never seemed to get truly comfortable at the plate in the majors.
That was not the case, however, in Pawtucket. His time in Triple-A was notably broken up by the three call-ups to the majors and two DL stints: one in May for right biceps tendonitis and another for right elbow inflammation (for which he was dramatically removed from Pawtucket’s July 30 game while details of the Jake Peavy deal were slowly coming out). But while he was in the Pawtucket lineup, he hit like the Top 50 prospect he was coming into the season. He ended his April/May stint in Triple-A with a twelve-game hitting streak, and similarly was able to work himself back into grooves at the plate following struggles in the majors. In addition to setting a career high with 13 home runs across the two levels, he got his first real professional exposure to the outfield corners on defense, and in most circles, he remains one of the top outfield prospects in the game.
First-Hand Report & 2014 Outlook: Certainly no other prospect—and perhaps no other player, period—got more attention last spring than Bradley, as he dominated Grapefruit League play in several aspects of the game. However, as we've seen countless times, spring numbers do not translate directly to the majors, and this was the case as he stumbled upon getting the chance to start the year with Boston. The narrative in the media, unfamiliar with Bradley as a player, quickly went from budding superstar to potential bust who needed to figure things out in Triple-A again. In truth, he just was not ready for major league pitching, being fresh out of his first major league spring training and only a year and a half removed from college. None of this affected his our projections here at SoxProspects.com, as we kept him steady in the second spot of our list all year.
What Bradley brings to the field first and foremost are his strong baseball instincts and acumen for the game. He has potential to be a plus-plus defensive outfielder in center because of these instincts, as he often appears to be moving towards the where the ball will land before it is even put in play. Though he is not the burner that Jacoby Ellsbury is, he can cover just as much ground by getting excellent jumps, and he also runs the bases well, although he is not a stolen base threat and doesn’t project to be at the major league level. He has quick batspeed and a solid approach at the plate, an area he showed improvement in this season. Another area he showed improvement is not over-extending his arms to leave himself susceptible to pitches on the inside, where he was victimized early in his time with Boston. Outside of the stint with Boston to start the year, Bradley showed steady improvement throughout the year and put himself in position to open the season in Boston next year. It looks likely that he will be the team's starting center fielder on opening day next season, should Jacoby Ellsbury depart in free agency. – Matt Huegel
Photo Credit: Jackie Bradley, Jr. by Kelly O'Connor