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Five reasons why Jackie Bradley Jr. should be around for Opening Day

03.22.13 at 11:25 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Somebody with the Red Sox asked me yesterday if I thought Jackie Bradley Jr. should make the team coming out of camp. My answer? Yes.

But after answering I found myself realizing that with 10 days remaining until Opening Day there has to be more of a definitive stance on the matter than simply “just because.” When the Red Sox lock themselves in their decision-making room to formulate a plan regarding their roster, there can’t be decisions driven by gut feelings.There have been eight weeks of evidence to draw from, for goodness sake. In other words, the scales have to start definitively being tipped one way or another.

For most of spring training, I’ve leaned on the side of keeping Bradley on the track most everybody anticipated heading into February — starting the year in the minors. But now, with just more than a week before the games count, I’ve studied enough, seen enough and heard enough to dig in.

Yes, Bradley should make the team, and here are the reasons why:

1. He’s ready.

Talk to the players, and the coaches, and they will wax poetic about how advanced Bradley is, both at the plate, in the field and in the clubhouse. It is clear the outfielder has been coached well up until this point. Normally, players wouldn’t be knocking on the door to the big leagues after just one full professional season. Bradley is an exception.

“He’s special,” said Dustin Pedroia.

2. He hits lefties.

Bradley entered Friday hitting 7-for-16 against lefties in spring training. It shouldn’t be surprising considering the left-handed hitter managed a .293 average against lefties in Double-A Portland last season, while hitting .263 vs. right-handers. This comes into play when making the decision because if Bradley does join the Red Sox out of the gate, he will be expected to play every day, and that early stretch will include games against lefties CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Ricky Romero (with the possibility of also facing Mark Buehrle, Wei-Yin Chen, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz).

3. Service time shouldn’t be an issue.

If Bradley makes the Opening Day roster he will need to spend a total (not necessarily consecutively) of 20 days in the minors in any of the next five seasons in order to make him eligible for free agency after 2019 instead of 2018. The fear for some is he is so good from the get-go that it would be considered lunacy to send the almost-23-year-old back down. But here’s the thing: Even if Bradley sets the world on fire in April, the Red Sox can still seamlessly send him to the minors when David Ortiz is healthy. You have two outfielders in Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino in whom you have invested multi-year deals; they won’t sit down for extended stretches. And because the mandate would be to play Bradley every day, the option of platooning with Gomes wouldn’t be surfaced. The roster dynamic might change as the season progresses, but certainly not before Bradley would put in the 20 days necessary to push back his free agent year until after ’19, and/0r the Red Sox get to June 15, when they can trade one of their newly signed free agents without the player(s)’ permission.

4. The Red Sox need to put their best foot forward in April.

After three straight seasons of miserable starts, this is one year the Red Sox can’t afford to get off to a sluggish beginning. Not only is it an organization that needs to start believing in itself once again, but getting optimism from its fan base early and often means something as well. And, judging by what the Red Sox have rolled out in spring training thus far, Bradley is the best option to win with Ortiz out of the lineup. The combination of the youngster joining Jacoby Ellsbury and Victorino in the outfield, with Gomes and Daniel Nava platooning at the designated hitter position, just seems like the right thing to do.

5. Defense has to be an early priority.

The team is optimistic about its pitching, but there are no guarantees that the staff’s spring training success will automatically transfer to the regular season. They have had an emphasis on pounding the strike zone, which has worked well in Florida. But if the pitchers start putting the ball in play more and more in their initial few starts, there better be a confidence that the ball is going to be caught. Bradley enhances the chances of those baseballs not dropping in. In other words, the Red Sox will want the pitchers feeling good about themselves from the start, and the rookie can help with that.

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