The Situation: With an injury to David Ortiz creating room on the roster, outfielder Jackie Bradley has officially made the Red Sox Opening Day roster after much buzz during spring training. The initial expectation was that the 22-year-old would start the season in the minors, with a potential call to the Show in the cards later in the season. However, Bradley showed such a high level of polish and maturity in camp that the organization deemed him capable of making the jump from Double-A to fill in while Ortiz mends, granting him a spot in the lineup and in left field.
Background: A standout at South Carolina in his first two seasons, Bradley entered his junior year as a projected mid-first round pick. A wrist injury ended up cutting his year short, and the outfielder fell to Boston in the supplemental round. Since entering the professional ranks, he hasn’t stopped hitting. Bradley received an accelerated placement to start 2012 in the Carolina League and took the competition by storm. A .359/.480/.526 line in 67 games with Salem offered a clue that he was trending ahead of the curve, with personal scouting looks revealing that he was in need of a greater challenge. Bradley got the mid-season bump to Double-A and continued to acquit himself well both offensively and defensively (with the scouting reports to match the stats) in the Eastern League. The 22-year-old entered 2013 the second-ranked prospect in the Red Sox farm system and 27th overall, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Scouting Report: Bradley is a very cerebral and instinctive player. Right now, his defense is the most advanced part of his game. A natural center fielder, Bradley displays a high level of grace and fluidity when manning his position. His instincts allow him to move with the crack of the bat, giving him above-average-to-better range despite only average speed. Bradley hunts down balls in the outfield, making difficult plays look easy and hauling in chances that most outfielders don’t. His well-above-average defense is capped off by a plus arm, making him one of the top, if not the top, overall outfield defenders I’ve seen in the last handful of seasons in the minors.
Bradley can handle the stick, but he does have some areas to improve upon. The left-handed hitter generates plus bat speed via quick hands, but he runs into some timing issues when he lands on his front too early, and he can be susceptible to offerings on the inner third due to some over-extension in his swing. Bradley does have the hit tool and batting eye to hit .285-.295 with continued adjustments. Don’t expect home run power to be a large part of his offensive game—he projects to hit 8-12 round-trippers at his peak, but the outfielder has “sneaky” power and can muscle up on mistakes.
Immediate Big-League future: How long Bradley is going to stay in the bigs will likely be determined by Ortiz’s recovery time. Unless there is a slot for the outfielder to play every day, it’s a safe bet that he’ll head back to Triple-A to get regular at-bats and play as much as possible when the designated hitter returns. One thing is certain: Bradley possesses the maturity to handle this jump to the majors, with makeup that grades off the charts. He won’t be sent back to the minors because he was overwhelmed. There is a vibe about this prospect when I’ve scouted him that points towards a player who is going to maximize every ounce of his talent in his peak seasons.
Bradley’s bat isn’t quite yet ready to face major-league pitching, but he’ll put in quality plate appearances. He won’t be overmatched, and he can chip in a bit from the bottom of the lineup, but he’s bound to be streaky. He will offer immediate value in the field. —Chris Mellen
Fantasy Outlook: When prospect lists started to trickle out earlier this year, Bradley was one of the guys I pegged as someone whose value in real life does not match up with his fantasy value. This is something that you can take advantage of, especially with all of the hype surrounding his early arrival. Don’t get me wrong, Bradley should be a very good major leaguer, but when two of a prospect’s best qualities are on-base ability and defensive prowess, that means that a lot of people are probably overrating said prospect for fantasy. He does have some speed, but he’s not likely to put up gaudy stolen base numbers—probably in the 15-20 range, if he spends most of the year in the majors.
The other thing about Bradley is that he’s likely to be sent back down to the minor leagues at some point in the next month. Of course, that depends on David Ortiz being healthy, so any length of stay is possible. Bradley is likely to get most of his at-bats down in the order, which takes away his best source of future fantasy contributions—runs scored. If you own Bradley in a redraft, I’d seriously think about selling him early, as it’s entirely plausible that he’ll get only about 200-250 at-bats in the majors this year, despite making the Opening Day roster.
That said, Bradley should be owned in deep mixed leagues (16 teams or more) and AL-only formats for now. He’s unlikely to be a free agent in any AL-only leagues, but if he is, I’d throw $8-10 on him in FAAB bidding. In dynasty leagues and deep keeper formats, he’s a guy to target if he’s currently unowned. Bradley is unlikely to reach shallow mixed league radars this season. —Bret Sayre