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Friday, March 15, 2013
Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. on fast track

By Jayson Stark

SARASOTA, Fla. -- If you're looking to get noticed in your first big league spring training, here's a helpful suggestion:

Hit .517. With a .611 on-base percentage.

That'll do it. Guaranteed.

Those were the numbers next to Red Sox rock star/phenom Jackie Bradley Jr.'s name on the old stat sheet Friday morning, before an 0-for-2, one-walk afternoon against the Orioles tweaked them slightly (to .484 and .590 respectively). And to say his teammates were slightly aware of those numbers would be kind of like saying the local mahimahi are slightly aware the sea is wet.

In fact, Bradley's teammates are so on top of his ridiculous stats, they suspect there might even be a misprint.

"I'm pretty sure," said catcher David Ross, "he's hitting 7.000 this spring."

Meanwhile, Bradley’s manager and coaches also appear to have detected that this guy keeps forgetting to make a whole lot of outs.

"Did I ever hit .517? Probably in Little League," joked bench coach Torey Lovullo. "Of course, I was 19 when I was in Little League."

Want some other Jackie Bradley Jr. numbers that jump off the stat sheet at you? How about these:

Bradley Jr
Jackie Bradley Jr. leads the Red Sox in hits this spring with 15.
He has piled up 15 hits, six walks and two hit-by-pitches this spring in 39 plate appearances -- but only four strikeouts.

"Those," said manager John Farrell, "don't lie."

"I mean, it's not like he's out on his front foot, hitting the ball with one hand over the shortstop," Farrell said. "He's been very good."

So not a day goes by anymore when the manager isn't asked about the chances of this 22-year-old hit machine, with one full season of professional baseball under his belt, making his team's outfield. On Opening Day.

"That started," Farrell laughed, "about the beginning of Week 2 of games."

But the answer is one the manager isn't prepared to deliver just yet. Naturally.

"Oh, he fits with the Red Sox. In our system. In our organization," Farrell said. "Whether or not that start date is in the major leagues, I guess the best way to sum that up is: To be determined."

Now obviously, you don't need to be a descendant of Carl Yastrzemski to understand that the odds of the Red Sox starting Bradley in the big leagues -- when (A) he has never played a game in Triple-A, (B) he has appeared in just 61 games above A ball and (C) he's a Scott Boras client -- are smaller than Dustin Pedroia.

Starting this guy's free-agent clock has to be an issue that even the Red Sox need to factor in. But then again, so are the decreasing odds that David Ortiz (lingering heel issues) will be ready by Opening Day.

So while the Red Sox are mostly evaluating Bradley's skill set on its own merits, Ortiz's health "might affect the 'when'" part of this equation, Farrell admitted Friday.

"Everything points to David's [health] situation not being long term," Farrell said of Ortiz. "While we don't have a date [for his return], there's a time in the near future when he'll be back with us. He's improving right now with the downtime and the anti-inflammatory. He's responding favorably to that.

"But how that relates to Jackie," the manager went on, "that's part of the ongoing conversation we're going to have in the last 2½ weeks down here."

Well, if the last 2½ weeks go anything like the first 4½ weeks, this could get interesting.

Bradley -- a dynamic, multitool package in a 5-foot-10, 195-pound tailback's body -- has been on the fast track since the Red Sox took him with the 40th overall pick in the 2011 draft. He's clearly slotted, if all goes according to plan, to slide in next season as the center fielder in the post-Jacoby Ellsbury era. And he's coming off a dazzling season in which he hit .315/.430/.482 between Class A Salem and Double-A Portland last year.

Oh, he fits with the Red Sox. 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.

-- Boston manager John Farrell



For all the talk about Bradley's numbers, though, his insane spring numbers are only a small slice of the story of one of the most impressive young players in any team's camp.

"The .517, that's what everybody sees," Lovullo said. "And of course we love it. But I'd like him the same if he was hitting .117. And I'd say the same things I'm telling you if he was hitting .117."

And that's because what has really opened the eyes of his teammates and coaching staff is that Bradley didn't saunter into his first big league camp intent on filling up the stat sheet with picturesque numbers, or spinning lots of look-at-me quotes.

"He's here," Lovullo said, "to work and to get better."

Now here's a Jackie Bradley Jr. story that proves that point:

Since the beginning of spring training, Lovullo has led optional early-morning bunting drills. Bradley has shown up for every one of them.

"So 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."

But equally impressive is the second part of that tale.

To kick off the first of those bunting sessions, Lovullo asked the best bunter in the group, Brock Holt, to run through his "entire arsenal" of bunting tips.

"And ever since that time, every day, Jackie Bradley has tried to duplicate Brock Holt," Lovullo reported. "And he's become a very, very good bunter. That's an example of what I've had a chance to see. He's almost duplicated a really good bunter's technique, in four weeks."

So now that we've laid out those stories, it should be no surprise to hear that when Bradley was asked Friday what it's meant to him to find himself in his first big league camp, his reply was: "It's meant a lot to me, just being able to learn."

"I wouldn't necessarily say I've picked a lot of brains," Bradley said. "I've just paid close attention, with my eyes and my ears. I ask questions if questions are warranted. But I've been mostly listening. And if things come up, then I ask questions.

"When you’re a rookie, you don't want to go in there with your mouth wide open. You're going to shut up and pay attention. That's what most rookies are expected to do. It's kind of frowned upon if you come in here and you think you’re hot stuff. Just be quiet. Listen. Act professional. But don't just act professional. Be professional."

And if that's been his goal, it's safe to say he has met it.

Farrell talks about his "quiet calm and quiet confidence." Lovullo raves about his "mental strength" and his "attention to great detail." And those are not descriptions you hear about many players in their first major league camp.

So while nothing gets your attention quite like a .517 batting average -- in any league, Grapefruit or otherwise -- what the Red Sox have really learned this spring is that Jackie Bradley Jr. is going places. Even if one of those places isn't Fenway Park in April.