Why the Sox have to start Bradley in the minors

Why the Sox have to start Bradley in the minors
March 20, 2013, 3:30 pm
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We're only 12 days away from Opening Day for the Red Sox, and that’s good news for baseball fans. Why? Because 12 days isn’t a very long time. It’s not even two weeks. It’s not even 300 hours. In other words, it’s shorter than your average Sox-Yankees game.
But you know what’s even shorter than 12 days? Eleven days. Which is why when the Sox take the field at Yankee Stadium on April 1, Jackie Bradley Jr. — the Sox 22-year-old centerfielder of the future, who spent the last month convincing the world that the future might be now — will hopefully be down in Pawtucket, scheming April Fools jokes with Bryce Brentz and prepping for a long bus ride to Scranton.
By now, you’ve caught wind of the Jackie Bradley Jr. phenomenon. And more than likely, that wind has already swept you off your feet and dropped you at Bradley’s Cooperstown induction in the summer of 2032. The more you’ve seen, read and heard about JBJ, the more you’ve fallen in love with the mere concept of him patrolling centerfield at Fenway for many years to come.
Of course, part of that is due to the fact that we’re all delusional. After two years of merciless emotional torture at the hands of the Red Sox organization, hope is at a premium. And with this year’s squad already established as a certified long shot to contend for the title, it wouldn’t take much for a prospect to inspire the masses and convince us all that salvation is on the way. We’ve been searching for someone like Jackie Bradley. We need someone like Jackie Bradley. Hell, for the last few years, Boston’s greatest hope down on the farm was that Jose Iglesias might become the next Rey Ordoñez. That’s more depressing than a party at JD Drew’s house.
Drew: “Hey guys . . . thanks for coming . . .”
You: “No problem, man! So what should we do?!”
Drew: “. . . ehh, I don’t knooow . . . kinda having fun just sittin’ here.”
So, yeah. It wouldn’t have taken much for Bradley to win the hearts of Sox fans. But damn it if the kid hasn’t done so in style.
First of all, there’s his production at the plate.
Through 19 games this spring, Bradley’s batting .439, with a .549 OBP and .561 slugging percentage — which equals a chubby 1.110 OPS — and leads the team with 18 hits.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing. After all, Pedro Ciriaco was the team hit leader last spring, and the best hit total of the last five years was handed in by Chris “All he does is get hits in the spring“ Carter. But with Bradley, it feels a little more significant. I mean, it’s one thing when a random, run-of-the-mill prospect rattles off an impressive February and March, but when you see it from a highly-touted guy Bradley (he’s No. 31 on Baseball America’s 2013 Top 100 Prospects list), it’s more logical to get your hopes up.
Especially when you factor in that offense isn’t even his strong suit.
On that same Top 100 list, Baseball America slapped Bradley a defensive rating of 75 on an 80 point scale, which is the highest score of anyone on the list. (His bat got a 60, which still pretty good.) And his D isn’t only impressive on paper; the Sox saw enough in the field last year to name Bradley their Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.
But the Bradley infatuation goes way beyond offense and defense. Above all else, there’s just something about him, an impressive collection of intangibles that leaves you — or at least me — near a seizure over what he has the potential to bring to this organization.
For one, he’s got that chip on his shoulder. Bradley was projected as guaranteed first-round pick heading into his junior year of college, but a slow start to that season was followed by a wrist injury and Bradley slipped out of the first and into supplemental round — where the Sox snagged him with the 40th overall pick. Sure, that’s not a Tom Brady-level snub, but as Paul Pierce has taught us, it doesn’t take much for a player to feel disrespected in the draft, and then dedicate his career to terrorizing the world.
For two, he’s a winner. Bradley won back-to-back College World Series during his time at the University of South Carolina. In 2010, with his team down to their last out in the 12th inning of a second round match against Oklahoma, Bradley hit a game-tying single and then scored the game-winning run. He was the later named the 2010 World Series Most Outstanding Player.
For three, Bradley just gets it.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote a piece about JBJ last week, and passed along a quote from Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo that demonstrates exactly what I mean.
As the story goes, Lovullo has hosted optional early-morning bunting drills since the start of Spring Training, and to this Bradley has had perfect attendance. That alone is mighty inspiring, but here’s Lovullo recalling a conversation he had with Bradley during one of the sessions.
"I asked him, 'What are your objectives?' " Lovullo said. "And he says, 'I feel like I can get four to six base-hit bunts a year, but I don't have confidence doing it. And if I get to the big leagues, I feel like John may ask me to sacrifice bunt.' So here's a young player who's never been to the big leagues, a player who's done nothing but hit through his entire minor league career. But he already has an understanding of what he might be asked to do at the big league level. It's impressive."
It is impressive. As is the fact that Bradley has since, according to Lovullo, “become a very, very good bunter.” As is just about everything we’ve seen and heard from this kid. It’s impressive and insanely refreshing.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just a result of how jaded Red Sox fans have become over the last few years of having to put up with Beckett and Lackeys of the world. Of having to cheer a for a team of guys whose ridiculous egos were only outweighed by their ridiculous contracts and had come to believe that the game owed them as opposed to the other way around. But in the little we’ve learned about Jackie Bradley Jr., he appears to be the antithesis of all that was wrong, and a window into all that could be right. So, we want to learn more. We want to see more. And with the David Ortiz disaster likely to create an opening on the Sox 40-man roster, a lot of folks want to see it right now. They want to see Bradley out there on Opening Day in the Bronx, locked and loaded for a 17-hour marathon with the Yanks. And for his part, John Farrell seems to at least be considering it:
"Oh, he fits with the Red Sox,” the manager recently said about Bradley. “In our system. In our organization. Whether or not that start date is in the major leagues, I guess the best way to sum that up is: To be determined."
In that case, let me help determine it.
He shouldn’t be there.
He can’t be there.
Eleven days.
As you’ve probably heard by now, all Bradley needs to do is spend 11 days in Pawtucket this season and the Sox can tack an entire year onto his contract. Another full year before he’s eligible for free agency.
If Bradley’s going to be as good as we’d all like to believe, there’s no way that the Sox can justify wasting that extra season on this season. And that’s even before you factor in that Bradley’s represented by Scott Boras.
And anyway, they don’t have lose the entire season! They don’t even have to lose 11 games. It’s 11 DAYS. It’s a no-brainer.
Of course, the 11 days don’t have to come right away. If they want, the Sox can start Bradley with the big boys, send him down later in the season, and delay his year of service. But what’s the benefit in delaying the inevitable?
You do that, and two things can happen:
1. He starts on Opening Day, and immediately proves himself as a bona fide big leaguer . . . as the Sox start awkwardly searching for an excuse to send him back down for two weeks. I don’t see that going well. Especially with the front office track record of people/communication skills.
2. He starts on Opening Day, and he struggles. On one hand, that makes it easy to demote him, but who knows what kind of toll that demotion might take on player’s state of mind.
As of today, the Sox have a few viable excuses for starting Bradley in Pawtucket. Most notably, he’s never been there. He finished last year in Portland. It’s entirely reasonable (even if it’s not) for a team to want a guy to see a helping of Triple-A at-bats before promoting him to the Bigs. And with the perspective and modesty that Bradley’s exhibited this spring, he seems like a player who would respect and understand that.
But if he struggles in the majors, and THEN they send him down, there’s only one explanation: “Sorry, Jackie. We thought you were ready, but I guess we were wrong.”
That’s backwards and inefficient. And it’s entirely avoidable.
If Bradley’s actually good enough to play in the majors this season, just let him spend two weeks tearing apart the International League and continuing to build upon his sky high confidence.
It’ll be a blip on the radar come 2032.