PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- While Xander Bogaerts has now become the most talked about prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization, Pawtucket Red Sox teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. has somewhat quietly continued to hone his skills at Triple-A.
During his stellar spring training, where he hit .419 with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 28 Grapefruit League games, the public debate was whether Bradley Jr. should make the team out of camp, which he did, debuting in the big leagues against the New York Yankees on April 1.
Bradley Jr. deserved to be in the outfield for the Red Sox at that point. However, he was inconsistent and was optioned to Pawtucket on April 18. The 23-year-old has played three separate stints with the Red Sox this season, and a couple of arm injuries sidelined him twice.
Bradley Jr. recently returned to the PawSox’s lineup from the disabled list, where he was rehabbing an elbow injury, and he’s starting to feel good about his game again.
“Good,” he said of his elbow. “I’m getting back in the swing of things. It feels good to be back out there, that’s for sure. I’d rather play the game than watch it, so it’s fun to get back out there.”
He’s accomplished some of his goals this season, but there’s still plenty of baseball to be played and he hopes to return to Boston.
“Yeah, for the most part,” he said of his goals. “There are always things you want to improve on and stuff like that. You always want to try to stay consistent and trying to get to the level you want to be at.”
Like most young prospects that get a taste of the big leagues before being optioned back to the minors, Bradley Jr. described his season as being up and down.
“Yo-yo. A yo-yo going up and down,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been down here mostly the whole time, trying to refine the game a little bit and trying to be more consistent both offensively and defensively and see what happens.”
Offensively, he’s had some inconsistencies at the plate. The left-handed hitter is batting .275 with nine homers and 29 RBIs for the PawSox. During Pawtucket’s 6-5 win over the Louisville Bats on Wednesday afternoon at McCoy Stadium, Bradley Jr. went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored.
He returned from the DL last Friday and went 0-for-4 in his first game. But he believes he’s finding his swing -- and he needs to, as major league rosters expand on Sept. 1.
“I came back kind of slow the first game, but I had a good game the second game. Now, it’s about getting back in the same routine, and more so controlling the effort level. You try to make up for the time you just lost, but it’s about simmering down, get back relaxed and working the pitchers a little bit.”
Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina explained why Bradley Jr. has battled those inconsistencies this season.
"He lacked rhythm in his stance. He wasn’t square to the plate and had some mechanical issues, and I think that’s from getting pounded in,” DiSarcina said. “He was creeping open, which is natural when you’re getting pounded in.
“He’s a very rhythmic hitter. Timing and rhythm is big for him, and when you take it away for seven days, it takes him some time to get back into it. He’s solid. We’ve missed him when he’s been on the DL. This team has missed him.”
Defensively, Bradley Jr. has been solid. His instincts in center field continue to impress. Still, there are some things in his game he needs to work on.
“I'll never get used to somebody making great plays look routine,” DiSarcina said. “Man, that kid just made that play look easy. I admire his jumps on balls and his ability. He practices it during BP, so it’s a skill that he’s honed. He has to learn to throw better to bases, get the cutoff down a little bit more and keep double plays in order. Those are little tweaks he still needs to do, but watching him catch a fly ball reminds me of Jimmy Edmonds.
“Jimmy Edmonds played a shallow outfield and he had great vision. Jimmy could see pitches. He could see pitchers putting their fingers down. Jimmy was never afraid to put his back to the plate and Jackie’s the same way. He’s not afraid to turn his back and run to a spot and trust his instincts. He’s fun to watch. I don’t take it for granted at all when the ball goes up. I just enjoy watching him play.”
The Red Sox have a solid core of prospects in the development system, including Bradley Jr. and Bogaerts. Since Bogaerts was promoted to Triple-A on June 14, he’s been impressed with Bradley Jr.'s work ethic and natural abilities.
“He’s a great person and he’s fun to be around and fun to talk to,” Bogaerts said. “He plays the game right. He’s a good example for all the younger guys coming up. He was struggling a little bit when I came, but he’s back on track.”
Based on his spring training performance and his ability, some might think it was a disappointing year for Bradley Jr. He doesn’t think of it that way. It’s been a learning experience, one that will last him his career, he says. His goal is to be back in Boston before the end of the season, but he’s focused on getting better here first.
“I can’t play GM,” he said. “I’ve got to get it done where I’m at right now and let them deal with all the decision making. My part is the easiest part -- just play.”