Jackie Bradley, Jr. has not appeared in a Carolina League game since June 17, earning a promotion from High-A Salem to Double-A Portland. But his imprint is still felt around the league. His .359 average in 67 games is still in the leagues No. 1 spot. He had enough plate appearances to keep him on the leaderboard through Salems 112th game.
But, Bradley will disappear from the leaderboard after that, early next week. His effects are now being felt in the Eastern League, just as they are expected to be felt in the Red Sox organization well into the future.
He adds a spark to your club, said Portland manager Kevin Boles. Hes bright and hes terrific in the clubhouse. Obviously the natural ability, the athleticism that he has is above-average and hes a guy that shows a lot of instincts, thats aggressive to the game. Theres no fear in his approach. I think that for most guys theres usually an adjustment period when they come to a new level. But from Day 1 hes just attacked the Eastern League. Hes been terrific with how hes handled it.
With Portland, Bradley, has hit safely in 29 of 41 starts and has reached base in 33 (entering Thursday). He entered Wednesday leading all Sox minor leaguers with .332 average, going 130-for-391, and 40 doubles between Salem and Portland, with seven home runs and 53 RBI.
He hit the ball hard, said one scout who has seen Bradley about 10 times this season. Hes a really good two-strike hitter. Hes not afraid of waiting for two strikes. Hes very patient. Hes good.
Bradley, the Sox fourth pick in 2011, was selected in the first round (supplemental), the 40th overall pick in the draft, out of the University of South Carolina. His accomplishments this season after playing just 10 professional games last season have garnered a great deal of attention for him.
Hes a guy that has pretty much been under the microscope since hes been around, Boles said. And obviously playing for Team USA in 2010 and playing for a big SEC program hes been well-prepared to handle this type of attention. He just goes about his business, works hard, and hes very humble.
Bradley, a native of Richmond, VA., who turned 22 in April, is just trying to take it all in stride.
Well, Ive just been taking it a day at a time, he said. The attention doesnt really bother me. I know where I come from. Just trying to go about it the right way and in a professional manner, and just keep playing the game hard. Its not going to change my approach or anything. I just play the game the way I know how to.
Appearances to the contrary, Bradley knows its not easy.
Its definitely a grind. Its not easy thats for sure, he said. Just getting used to a whole professional season every day. Coming to the field every day, getting into your own particular routine, and just being able to grind it out when some days you might be tired. Its all part of the process and what youve been training for.
While his offensive numbers are impressive, his defense has been equally so.
Hes real good, said the scout. Hes just an average runner but he looks like hes better than that. Hes not that big a guy listed at 5-feet-10, 180 pounds but he plays bigger than that. Hes got tremendous instincts. He seems to have a crystal ball. He knows where the ball is going to go.
Hes got a good arm. He really gets rid of the ball. Hes going to have a chance to throw guys out, kind of like Josh Reddick. He doesnt have a great arm but he gets to balls quickly so hell have a chance to throw guys out. I think the Red Sox hit the perfect timing with him.
Perfect timing, indeed. Bradley is seen by many as a potential replacement for Jacoby Ellsbury, who can become a free agent after the 2013 season. For his part, Bradley is not trying to put a clock on his major league arrival.
No, not really because its definitely not something I can control, he said. So I cant really put any goals on something I cant control. Just keep playing well and whatever happens, happens. My only goal and expectations is stay healthy for a whole season.
Bradley had trouble staying healthy last season. A wrist injury in April 2011 limited him to just 37 games and a .259 average his final season at South Carolina, followed by 10 total games with Low-A Lowell and Single-A Greenville, where he hit a combined .250. If you follow Bradley on Twitter, you know that Jackie Robinson is a major inspiration to Bradley.
Just the adversity that he went through and the determination, he said. It actually helped push me. Not just for African-Americans but for all athletes to be able to play this game. He was kind of the front-runner who made this possible.
But, it was not the heroic Robinson for whom Bradley is named. It was another American icon.
Actually my Grandma was a big Jackie Wilson fan, Bradley said. So she named my Dad after Jackie Wilson.
Bradley knows there is still work to be done and adjustments to be made at Double-A.
In "A" ball they see a lot more fastballs, Boles said. Here obviously they start to slow the ball down. They can throw it off-speed at any time in the count. This is the league thats a separator league. As far as game management on defense, I think thats something that he has drastically improved on since hes been here. He has a plus arm and he loves to show it off. But its just game containment, making sure you keep the batter-runner off of second base, just not creating errors, trying to throw guys out when theres not opportunities, and understanding what the game is telling you in front of you. And hes starting to be able to slow the game down on defense and really manage the game.
With just over a month left in Portlands season, what would Bradley like to work on?
Everything, he said. Just to improve every aspect of my game.