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Buster Olney on M&M: Red Sox believe Jackie Bradley Jr. could be ‘best defensive center fielder in the American League’

04.09.14 at 1:54 pm ET
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ESPN MLB insider Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to talk about the Red Sox outfield, Jackie Bradley Jr. and how the Red Sox view him, if Stephen Drew could still return and if A.J. Pierzynski is at risk of losing his job. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

With so many moving parts in the outfield, following Jacoby Ellsbury‘€™s departure to the Yankees, the Red Sox already have seen a variety of lineups there. For Olney, he could see the Red Sox going with Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino (once healthy) and Grady Sizemore.

“They definitely wanted to develop Jackie Bradley Jr. and they believe he is, if not the best defensive center fielder in the American League, they think he could be,”€ Olney said. “They want to get him established. Shane Victorino, has probably played right field better than any Red Sox player since Dwight Evans. Then you put Grady in left and you potentially have a shutdown outfield. I think the biggest question at that time was of course whether Grady was going to hold up, and I think that’€™s going to be a question all season.”

Bradley had a rough spring training, batting .158 and striking out 17 times, losing the starting job to Sizemore. However, because of injuries to Victorino, Bradley quickly got an opportunity again, batting .400 in 20 at-bats. Olney knows that the Red Sox were always confident in Bradley.

“A lot of the doubts that were reflected were in the media based on his performance,”€ Olney said. “€œI know that when you talked to the Red Sox during the winter time about what their plans were, and this is before Grady came into the equation in any serious way, their feeling was like, ‘Look, Jackie Bradley Jr.’€™s got a ton of talent and he’€™s going to do what we like and that’€™s get on base and play great defense at that position.’ I talked to evaluators with other teams during spring training leading up to those two broadcasts we did and they talked about how they thought that Jackie’€™s confidence was down.”

With Will Middlebrooks out indefinitely, some have suggested that the Red Sox should move Xander Bogaerts to third base and sign Drew to play shortstop. Olney sees the move as unlikely, as the Red Sox are hoping another team will sign him so they can get a draft pick.

“They’€™re hoping, probably internally at this point, that Drew signs with another team so they get a compensation draft pick,” Olney said. “€œAnd I know that the Indians felt this way with Ubaldo Jimenez and the Royals felt this way with Irvin Santana, that if they’€™re going to sign back those guys, and the Red Sox are in that same position with Drew, they essentially will attach a discount to whatever they’€™re going to offer him by saying, ‘Look, in order to sign him now, we have to give up a draft pick.’ ”

Pierzynski has been hitting well for the Red Sox to start the 2014 season. However, due to his age and below-average defense, Olney sees a situation where Christian Vazquez could get called up and push the veteran for playing time.

“His defense has drawn notice of rival scouts, I talked to them the last couple of days, and they say he’€™s struggled early in their eyes,”€ Olney said. “I don’€™t think there’€™s any question to me, because the Red Sox have great defensive alternatives in the minor leagues, that A.J. has got to hit to hang on to that job. And the way that this was structured was that they essentially brought A.J. in to be a placeholder for the young catchers they have in the farm system — Vasquez being the guy who’€™s the most developed, who is viewed, without a doubt by people of other teams, being a strong defender.”

Read More: A.J. Pierzynski, grady sizemore, jackie bradley jr., Red Sox
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