FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has made a great first impression on John Farrell, to the point that the Red Sox manager did not rule out Bradley making the club out of camp.
“Good question,’’ Farrell said when asked if it was completely far-fetched that Bradley could win a job on the Opening Day roster. “I guess the best way to answer that is coming into camp, we didn’t have that as a strong possibility. And yet we’re four days into the game schedule.
“He could still be well-served by getting more at-bats in the minor leagues before he comes up, but again he’s making a very strong impression in camp.’’
But despite the glowing words, understand that remains a “very, very remote” possibility, a club official said, with the plan still in place that Bradley will open the 2013 season in Triple-A Pawtucket.
The greater takeaway from Farrell’s comments Tuesday morning is that Bradley, who doesn’t turn 23 until April 19 and is in his first big league camp after starting last season with Class A Salem, is living up to his reputation as a top prospect. All signs suggest that his ETA in Boston will be sooner rather than later, with sometime in 2013 a very real possibility.
“Every time he steps on a field he’s done something very positive,’’ Farrell said. “For a young player, he’s sound fundamentally. Defensively, he takes outstanding routes to difficult plays in the outfield, even in the early going here, and he’s hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching. For a young player to make a positive impression in camp, he’s gotten off to a very good start.
“We don’t have a predetermined date that he will be reassigned, but as we get deeper into camp, and [facing] proven big league pitchers, quality big league pitchers, how he fares against that type of stuff and the ability to make different types of pitches in certain counts, it’s about taking advantage of every opportunity he gets.’’
Bradley, who had a double and two singles Monday against the Blue Jays and also drew a walk, is scheduled to lead off and play center field here Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Farrell was asked about Bradley’s routes to fly balls, in the context of how advanced they are for his age.
“We talk about it in the staff room,’’ Farrell said. “You’d think he’s been working at this a long time. Your eyes are trained to follow the pitch and then you see contact. It almost seems that before contact’s made, he’s already on the move.
“It’s been impressive to see that, because if you just time the foot speed, he’s not a world-class sprinter where he’s going to outrun the baseball. His instincts and routes are exceptional.’’
Farrell was Cleveland’s director of player development from 2001 to 2006, a period in which the Indians received numerous accolades for having one of the best farm systems in the game, so he is not uneducated about the progression of young players.
“The player tells you,’’ Farrell said, “in the little things inside of the game. Defensively, he’s very accomplished. But again, it’s going to be how he fares against quality pitching as we go through camp, and ultimately you’re finding out about the person, and more so from the maturity element, the maturity factor. Is he going to handle some distractions and some failures? It’s a checkbox along the way as we get to know him.’’
Farrell said Bradley will get some game action in a corner outfield spot, especially after Shane Victorino departs for Team USA on March 3.
Bradley has already taken fly balls in camp at all three spots, including off the faux Green Monster. The Sox are looking for a potential platoon partner for Jonny Gomes in left, as well as a possible fifth outfielder. The candidates include Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney, Mitch Maier and Mike Carp.
“That’s planned,’’ Farrell said. “We’ll get some reps in right field for Jackie. You’ll also see Jonny Gomes get some reps in right field. We go into Yankee Stadium nine times and there’s a very real possibility we could have Victorino in left and Gomes in right because of the size of the outfield at those respective positions.’’
Farrell reiterated that not every player needs a prescribed number of at-bats at the Triple A level.
“If you could draw up, sure, you’d like to see X number of at-bats, but I think there are a lot of examples around the league where guys came in a shortened path. Two of the most exciting young players in the game today didn’t have that path.’’
Trout, 20, played just 20 games in Triple-A before he was called up by the Angels at the end of April. Harper, 19, played just 21 games in Triple-A before he was called up by the Nationals on April 28, the same day as Trout.
There were four other outfielders 23 years old or younger who played regularly in 2012: Jason Heyward of the Braves, Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox, Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and Jose Tabata of the Pirates.
“That’s not to sit here today and we’re going to bypass those steps," Farrell said, "but at worst, we have a very good-looking young player.’’
The argument has sometimes been made that you don’t want to promote a young player unless you’re certain he’ll stick. Farrell said that isn’t necessarily the case.
“I think the transition for a young player a lot of times will include a trip back to the minor leagues," Farrell said. "But again, to say that there’s one exact way of doing things, I’m certainly not going to say there is. And it goes back to that individual’s ability to deal with the failures in the big leagues, particularly if it’s the first time in their career if they struggle.’’