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SoxProspects News

November 17, 2014 at 7:30 AM

2014 Graduates in Review: Jackie Bradley, Jr.

As a special extension of our Top 40 in Review series, this week we will feature the six players who were ranked in the SoxProspects.com Top 10 during the 2014 season and graduated from prospect status.

Peak system ranking: #2
Graduated: April 18 (#2)
2014 Teams: Boston Red Sox, Pawtucket Red Sox
Final Stats: 423 PA, .198/.265/.266, 19 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 31 BB, 121 K, 8 SB (majors)
69 PA, .212/.246/.273, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 18 K (minors)


Season in Review: An elite 2013 spring training performance catapulted Bradley to the big leagues despite having a mere 271 plate appearances above High A, and readers will be familiar with the weak performance across 107 big league plate appearances that followed. After some Triple-A seasoning that saw him post a robust .842 OPS, the 24-year-old entered 2014 poised to take over the starting job in center field following the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency. Unfortunately, on the offensive side of things, it resulted in a nightmare that no one could have anticipated. Things started out alright, as Bradley hit .244/.344/.372 through the end of April, more than enough to justify his elite glove in center field. However, once May came around, the 2011 first-round supplemental draft pick entered an extended funk, slashing .190/.261/.258 with a 13 walks to 52 strikeouts over 181 plate appearances through June. July represented a modest improvement (.278/.325/.347), followed by a horrible 5 for 35 slump that finally resulted in his demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket on August 18, with the Red Sox replacing him with top prospect Mookie Betts.

Despite the return to a level he had previously hit quite well at, Bradley's results continued to underwhelm, as he hit .212/.246/.273 in 69 plate appearances with a 3 walks and 18 strikeouts. Recalled on September 5 after playing two games in the International League playoffs - where he went 2 for 10 - in order to avoid burning an option, Bradley Jr. received sporadic playing time in both right and center field, ending the season in a miserable 1 for 36 spell with zero walks and 10 strikeouts.

Although, to be frank, his offensive tribulations resulted in arguably the worst offensive season in the majors for a regular, Bradley’s defense never wavered. Year-long, he was nothing short of incredible, endlessly putting on a clinic in center field and earning a nomination for the American League Gold Glove award. While he lost out to Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, advanced defensive metrics indicated that Bradley was the league’s best all-around defender at the position, and one of the very best overall defensive players. - Matt Picard

Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: Best known for his defense during his rise through the farm system, Bradley put those skills on display on the national scene and proved as spectacular as scouts predicted. It is hard to find weaknesses in Bradley's defense: He has tremendous range, aided by top-notch instincts, as he is seemingly heading towards the spot where the ball will land before the ball is even put in play. Despite a lack of elite speed, he can out-range many faster center fielders due to his instincts, along with natural closing speed. He also has a rocket for an arm, with great accuracy.  He will never steal many bases, but he topped 20 in one minor league season and could swipe in the range of 15 bases a year as a full-time starter.

But for all the positives on the defensive side, consistent offensive production proved elusive for Bradley in his first full season in the majors, despite a strong track record at the plate in the minors. Bradley was always known for his patient approach coming up through the minors, and that continued for the most part this season in Boston. However, his propensity to swing and miss has increased significantly against major league pitching, particularly against fastballs on the inside part of the plate or up in the zone. While he swung through too many, he recognized fastballs well and laid off of those outside the zone. On offspeed pitches, he had the opposite problem, failing to recognize them  and swinging at too many out of the zone, although he swung-and-missed at just an average rate. He has always had a long swing, which explains the swing-and-miss problems against fastballs, and he was reportedly resistant to shortening it. This will likely be an area of focus heading into next season. Hitting from a more open stance in the minors, he had closed it up a bit upon initial struggles in his first taste of majors in 2013, but moved back towards the open stance in late June this season, coinciding with his most successful stretch at the plate. He does have plus batspeed, so there is some ability there to develop into more than just an all-defense, no-hit player.

Bradley is a savvy, instinctive baseball player, who I would not bet against. He could certainly get at least one more chance to prove he deserves a starting spot in the major leagues at some point in 2015, although he would likely begin the year in Pawtucket given the current surplus of major league outfielders in the organization, and would need movement in front of him through trade, injury, or ineffectiveness a chance to materialize. Given that situation, if another team offers the Red Sox a trade that values Bradley as a starter, I would not be surprised to see Boston make that move. - Matt Huegel

Additional editorial support provided by Norm Cimon.

Photo Credit: Kelly O'Connor