|Red Sox sign sandwich pick Jackie Bradley Jr.||08.15.11 at 11:59 pm ET|
In 2005, as Johnny Damon wondered about his future with the Red Sox as he stood on the cusp of free agency, the team selected a centerfielder from Oregon State University with its first selection of the 2005 draft. Shortly thereafter, the College World Series was on in the Red Sox clubhouse, and Jacoby Ellsbury appeared in the game.
“Hey Johnny, your replacement is on TV,” Sox teammate Alan Embree joked to Damon.
Now, it is possible that the Sox have added Ellsbury’s potential successor should they prove unable to retain their All-Star center fielder beyond into his free agent years.
With their fourth pick of the 2011 draft, the Sox grabbed center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. out of the University of South Carolina. The idea of drafting Bradley entering the 2011 season seemed somewhat unlikely for the Sox, who regarded him as a potential top 10-15 selection after a sophomore campaign in which Bradley had been named the MVP of the 2010 College World Series.
The team regarded Bradley as an elite defensive center fielder, someone who can close his eyes, take a perfect route and run exactly to the spot where a ball is hit. That trait, in conjunction with an advanced plate approach, looseness to his swing, good hand-eye coordination and the ability to keep the barrel of the bat in the strike zone, suggested a player capable of being an impact all-around player. If he can hit 15-plus homers while getting on base at a solid clip and playing outstanding defense in center, then Bradley could emerge as an excellent ballplayer — the type who would be unlikely to sit on a draft board for the Sox to have a crack at him once their first pick rolled around at No. 19.
However, Bradley had a mess of a junior season. One evaluator suggested that his swing fell out of whack while using the new aluminum bats in college this year. Then, he suffered a wrist injury that cost him much of the season’s final two months.
The result was Bradley’s worst college season. He hit .247 with a .346 OBP and .432 slugging mark, along with six homers in 42 games.
The impact was two-fold. First, Bradley was on the board for the Sox. In fact, he was on the board for the Sox when they made their fourth overall selection, the No. 40 pick in the draft.
Secondly, the down year led Bradley and advisor Scott Boras to consider a return to South Carolina for his senior season in hopes of vaulting himself back into the upper half of the first round in 2012, particularly given the feeling that the 2012 draft class would be weaker than a 2011 group that was generally considered the strongest in six years. Even with little leverage as a senior, such a leap would have had the position to increase Bradley’s recommended slot bonus by hundreds of thousands — and potentially over a million — dollars.
And so, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, Boras wanted a bonus in line with that potential. The Sox, meanwhile, were willing to go above the MLB slot recommendation for a No. 40 pick of $829,800 in deference to the fact that they viewed Bradley as a player with talent beyond that draft position. Even so, the team had no interest in paying Bradley as if his junior year never happened.
It took until late Monday night, but the Sox came to terms with Bradley. John Manuel of Baseball America reported that the deal for Bradley was done for a $1.1 million bonus, an amount roughly in line with the slot recommendation for the No. 30 overall pick.
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