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Graduation Day: Jackie Bradley Jr. is ready for Double-A … and more

06.20.12 at 9:18 am ET
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It’s been an inevitability for some time. Indeed, after a season in which Jackie Bradley Jr. had produced wire-to-wire dominance for High-A Salem of the Carolina League, there were some voices in the organization that were downright antsy to promote the center fielder to Double-A Portland.

That time has arrived. Bradley is on his way to join the Sea Dogs. For his last game in High-A before a promotion to Double-A Portland, Bradley took part in Tuesday night’s Carolina League/Cal League All-Star Game, going 0-for-5 with a strikeout and stolen base. It was an unusual off note at a level where he produced few.

Put simply, Bradley’s debut in professional baseball has been so dominant that it has few relevant points of comparison among Red Sox position playing prospects over the last decade. The 2011 sandwich-round draft pick hit the ground at an Olympic sprint in his first full season after the Sox selected him with the No. 40 overall pick, a spot to which he slid after a junior year at the University of South Carolina in which his numbers took a hit due to first mechanical struggles and then injuries.

His numbers in the Carolina League were silly. He hit .359 (tops in the league) with a .480 OBP that leads not only the Carolina League but all of minor league baseball. He hit just three homers, but delivered 26 doubles (tops in the Carolina League) to forge a .526 slugging mark (fourth) and 1.006 OPS (second), with his 16 steals tied for sixth in the league. And his center field defense has been, in the words of Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett, “incredible.”

By way of comparison, Jacoby Ellsbury had what was considered a dominant debut in the Carolina League in 2006, where he, like Bradley, spent a half-season before moving up to Double-A Portland. Ellsbury’s line? A .299 average, .379 OBP, .418 slugging mark and .797 OPS with four homers and 25 steals. Dustin Pedroia had a more impressive full-season debut, simply because his initial dominance came in Double-A, where he hit .324/.409/.508/.917 before a late-June promotion to Triple-A. But Bradley’s numbers have been remarkable, particularly given that he plays electrifying defense at a premium, up-the-middle position.

How good has he been? Two American League scouts from other organizations weighed in on a player who appears to be on the fast track in the Red Sox system, the heir apparent to Ellsbury should the center fielder depart via free agency after the 2013 season. In short? There appears to be a lot about which to be excited.

ON HIS PROSPECT STATUS:

Scout 1: “His baseball instincts are through the roof. He’€™s going to be, to me, an All-Star center fielder and leadoff guy. He’€™s a double-plus defender, tremendous off the bat, tremendous range, 7 (on the 2-8 scouting scale, where a 5 is average) arm, great feel at the plate. His game speed plays way up. The guy’€™s a future All-Star, Gold Glover, leadoff skills, .300 hitter, he’€™s going to hit 10-15 — he’€™s not a big power guy; he’€™s on the smaller side — but he’€™s the big league package.”

Scout 2: “This kid is just really good, maybe not an All-Star type, but he’€™s a big leaguer and he’€™s going to stay there. He’€™s a good player. You know what you’€™re going to get with this kid. I was really surprised as I watched him. I kept checking how he was doing, then I talked to a couple other guys, said, ‘€˜Have you seen this Bradley guy?’€™ They said, ‘€˜Yeah.’€™ I said, ‘€˜He went nuts when I saw him.’€™ One said, ‘€˜I saw him a couple weeks after you, and he played the same way.’€™ A couple guys saw him a couple weeks before I did, same thing. Kid’€™s been awesome. Can’€™t do more than that.

“I walked out of [Salem] saying this kid couldn’€™t have played any better, and then I’€™m looking at the stats and he’€™s been playing that way for two months. He’€™s not too big. He’€™s not a burner — he’€™s like an average runner, maybe a little better. But he’€™s not like Ellsbury running. But he can play.
Great instincts, very good baserunner, very good base stealer, all the little stuff. He can hit, he’€™s got a little pop, he can play center field, he’€™s going to stay in center field. He walks. He’€™ll jump on the first pitch.

“For that kid to slide where he went, if they re-did the draft, [the Red Sox] would never get him there [at No. 40]. He played really well.”

ON HIS OFFENSIVE APPROACH

Scout 2: “This kid is going to walk, he can hit with two strikes, he’€™s not afraid, yet he’€™s aggressive. He’€™ll go up there, and if you make a mistake, he’€™ll get you. What their offensive philosophy, that of the Yankees, where they want those aggressive selective hitters, that’€™s him. That’€™s how you draw them up.”

ON HIS DEFENSE

Scout 1: “When you see him play defense, it’€™s something to behold. He knows exactly where the ball is going to fall, tremendous off the bat, he has the best right fielder’€™s arm you can find. He’€™ll be a dynamic player. No question.

“I’€™m not the only one from competing teams who thinks it’€™s night-and-day compared to everyone else you’€™re watching in that league. There’€™s no comparison. In 30 years of watching baseball, I can put him up there among the top center fielders in terms of defensive ability I’€™ve ever seen — at any level.”

(This scout suggested that Bradley’s defense is good enough that, if the Red Sox retained both him and Ellsbury, he would push Ellsbury to a corner.)

Scout 2: “I was surprised at how well he plays center. The ball is hit, and he’€™s not as fast as Ben Revere, but the ball is hit and he’€™s there. Whereas Ellsbury outruns the ball sometimes, this kid plays centerfield and does it well. Kudos to the Red Sox. Great pick.”

ON HIS PERFORMANCE IN HIGH-A AND READINESS FOR DOUBLE-A

Scout 1: “Definitely, the time [for a promotion] is now. They took their time and made sure. … He was just overmatching that league in every way, in every way.

“It’€™s a nice jump between A and Double-A. You want to see him perform a little bit against better pitching and guys who know how to attack the strike zone a little bit. I really have no doubts in my mind that it’€™s just a matter of when, and when he gets there, he’€™s going to be an impact guy.”

Scout 2: “He’€™s a good player on a good team. I think he’€™s 22 now. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. He belongs. Double-A, for him to get there in a year is a credit to the kid, and now we’€™ll see. It will be fun to watch him. Now, for me, at 22, he’€™s going to be tested. I think he’€™ll be fine. For him to do what he did out of the gate for two months or three months is pretty impressive.”

OVERALL

Scout 1: “He’€™s sure-fire to be impactful. He’€™s limited physically. He’€™s just Joe Everybody. He’€™s an average physical guy. His instincts are through the roof. He looks like he was born to play baseball in every aspect. You see him run down the line and you’€™re like, ‘€˜Is that a limp?’€™ Then you see him steal bases. Then you see him get to balls where off the bat, you’€™re like, ‘€˜That’€™s a double.’€™ He gets to it easy. Then you see him making throws from the warning track almost throwing guys out at bases. It’€™s crazy. It really is. Amazing player, especially when you consider his size.”

Both scouts suggested that, based on what they saw, a Bradley could be major league ready by sometime in 2013

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