Commentary

Tough reality for Bradley, Bogaerts

As talented rookies battle big league challenges, the Red Sox work on patience

Updated: August 19, 2014, 9:45 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. is not ready for a full-time gig at the major league level. At least, not yet. And Xander Bogaerts is just a few steps ahead of Bradley in his development.

The two Red Sox rookies are important to the organization's future. They are different players, and reality has set in for both this season. On Monday, the Red Sox optioned Bradley to Triple-A Pawtucket due to his inconsistency at the plate. He has big-league skills as a defender, but offensively he has a lot of work to do.

Bogaerts has struggled, too. But he's had more consistency than Bradley. The bigger difference appears to be Bogaerts' willingness to fix his flaws, rather than settle for what he's already accomplished. The concerning aspect for Bogaerts is his confidence. After making two mental miscues in the field this week, he was dejected and it showed. After Sunday's game, he said his mistakes were tearing him up inside.

A true indication of his willingness to learn was on display early Monday afternoon. He arrived at the ballpark ready to forget about his recent struggles and to work on getting better. According to Red Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield, Bogaerts had the best workout day of the season on Monday, which is a good sign. It means he's receptive.

Despite going 0-for-4 at the plate, Bogaerts played with a lot more confidence at shortstop during Monday's 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He registered five assists and showed no lingering effects of his recent miscues.

[+] EnlargeXander Bogaerts
AP Photo/Michael DwyerDespite his confidence issues, Xander Bogaerts' willingness to learn is a big plus, say his coaches.

And by all accounts, Bogaerts, 21, is mature for his age.

Bradley, on his return to the PawSox on Monday night, went 0-for-5, including a pair of strikeouts. He'll eventually figure it out at Triple-A, but it's clear that big league pitchers were too much for him this season and he never made the proper adjustments. Because the Red Sox have been in the basement of the AL East for the majority of the season, and after trading half of the pitching staff at the deadline, including ace Jon Lester, it's evident the Red Sox are focused on 2015. Instead of giving the organization's prospects only the month of September to prove their worth at this level, they've been given half a season and more.

So, some might think the timing of Bradley's demotion is questionable. Actually, it's not. Despite 387 plate appearances and only a .216 average in the majors this season, he needs to completely deconstruct his swing, learn to shorten his stroke and adjust his approach with two strikes.

If he can't make those adjustments, he'll simply become a backup outfielder in the big leagues.

Red Sox manager John Farrell admitted this move has been discussed internally for a while. So instead of waiting until the offseason, it appears the Red Sox want Bradley to start dissecting his swing right now.

PawSox hitting coach Dave Joppie has worked with Bradley at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels and probably knows his swing the best.

The problem isn't that Bradley has made too many changes with his stance, swing and approach this season; it's that he hasn't made the correct ones. And now it's time to strip it down and start from scratch.

"We felt like right now it was an opportunity to take advantage of the remaining three weeks left in the minor league season," Farrell said. "Hopefully to gain some confidence and some momentum when he comes back here. That's the reason for now."

There's no denying Bradley's defense. He's dynamic in every aspect. He can run. He can throw. He can track balls with precision. He makes difficult plays look easy, and spectacular, highlight-reel catches look routine.

"The defense is an impact defender and a premium center fielder," Farrell said. "We don't view him as an extra outfielder. We need to regain some of the consistency he showed through the minor league level and the performance history that's there. We're doing what we can to get back to that."

[+] EnlargeJackie Bradley Jr.
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJackie Bradley Jr. will need to deconstruct his current swing and start from scratch in order to become the hitter the Sox are looking for.

For Bradley, until now, there's been no real learning curve, especially in regard to dealing with slumps at the big league level. He hasn't faced much adversity in his baseball career. He won a national championship at the University of South Carolina in 2010. The Red Sox selected him in the supplemental round (40th overall) in the 2011 draft. He then spent only two seasons in the minors before making the Red Sox's roster out of training camp in 2013, becoming only the second homegrown talent since 1981 to reach the majors without Triple-A experience, joining Shea Hillenbrand.

He was outstanding during spring training in 2013, which lifted everyone's expectations. But it was only spring training and too small of a sample size to get an accurate read on his ability to perform at the big league level.

After he broke camp, he remained on the Red Sox's roster until he was optioned to Pawtucket on April 18. He was recalled again on May 29 and sent back on June 8. His third major league stint lasted four games, July 9-13. After spending the remainder of the season with the PawSox, he was a September call-up and played 10 of the club's final 19 games of the regular season.

During the 2013 season, he also spent two stints on the disabled list and never could find any consistency.

Angels third-base coach Gary DiSarcina spent the 2013 season as Boston's Triple-A manager in Pawtucket. He spent plenty of time working with Bradley, Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks. The one thing about DiSarcina: He's not afraid to be brutally honest with young players. He spent 12 years in the big leagues, all with the Angels, and knows how difficult it is.

"For a young player, [Bradley] doesn't have those consistent at-bats," DiSarcina said. "I think that's what Jackie needs, consistent at-bats. And, to go through struggles at the minor league level. When you come up here, you have pitchers who are very smart, advance scouts are in the stands, catchers who are brilliant, so you have a lot of different people in the game exposing your weaknesses. It's up to you as a player to close those holes and adjust to the adjustment these big leaguers are making. It can be tough, especially on a young kid who has never struggled before.

"I believe in him. He's a smart kid and he works hard. He's not one to get down on himself, and those attributes of working hard and staying in your routine will help him adjust to how people are pitching him and how they're getting him out."

Anaheim's 22-year-old star outfielder Mike Trout knows exactly how Bradley is feeling. In 2011, Trout was 19 when he made his major league debut on July 8. He spent the remainder of that season with the Angels and played a total of 40 games, hitting .220 with one home run and 20 RBIs. In 2012, Trout began the season at Triple-A Salt Lake and played 20 games, during which he hit .403 with four doubles, five triples, one home run and 13 RBIs. The Angels recalled him on April 28 and he's been doing some amazing things in the big leagues ever since.

"When I did get sent back down, when I first got called up, I knew what was up here and I knew that when I got sent back down I wanted to be back up here," Trout said. "It's where you want to be. The biggest thing is staying positive and not trying to do too much."

Opponents made adjustments when facing Trout, and teams have the scouting reports on Bradley this season.

"I just try to keep playing my game and not try to think about it too much. It all comes down to just playing and getting that experience," Trout said.

Bogaerts isn't going anywhere. His days in the minors are in the rearview mirror. By all accounts, he puts in the time and effort. Once his confidence catches up with his ability, he's going to enjoy a long and successful big league career.

Bradley doesn't lack for confidence. He needs to understand this is not a demotion, it's an opportunity to rebuild his game, so when he returns to Boston in September he can finish the season strong and prove he's willing to focus on what's important in his continued development.

Trout's advice: "Just stay positive and try to get back up here."

Bogaerts and Bradley may have different paths, but the Red Sox are hoping the end result is the same.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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