Baltimore Orioles Vs. Boston Red Sox At Fenway Park

Jackie Bradley Jr. was a terrific story for the Red Sox out of Spring Training. He forced his way onto the club, taking advantage of injury-based need to earn himself a trip north for his first taste of Major League action. Bradley gives the Red Sox something few of their existing outfielders do: speed on the base paths and superb range in the outfield. (Sorry, Shanf. Sad but true.)

Bradley hit during the Grapefruit League but hitting at the big league level is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. It is incredibly difficult, especially for players with little exposure above double-A, to succeed during their first go-round at the big league level.

As we should expect, Bradley is struggling during his first trip around the league with just three hits and six walks in 33 plate appearances. The adjustments required of Major League hitters are not easily made, especially given the grinding nature of a season in the show.

The Red Sox, having committed to starting Bradley’s clock by placing him on the Opening Day roster, now must decide what they want to do with one of their top prospects. Just like the choice to put him on the team in the first place, this is a delicate choice indeed.

Alex Speier of WEEI runs down Bradley’s struggles in his column today, noting while he’s turning in strong at bats and not embarrassing himself at the plate, the Red Sox have more to consider than just Bradley’s development plan.

[Bradley's] offensive struggles have become sufficiently pronounced that there’s a difficult balancing act for the Sox to strike between the young outfielder’s needs as a developing player and the team’s need for runs and wins as it continues its season-opening AL East round robin.

The decision to pinch-hit for Bradley as the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday night underscored the team’s dilemma. Manager John Farrell elected, in essence, to use Gomes against a right-handed Orioles reliever (Pedro Strop) rather than Bradley against a left-hander (Brian Matusz)…..the fact that the team is uncomfortable with Bradley against tough lefties is becoming problematic. A prerequisite in the Sox’ decision to add the young outfielder — who was so singularly dazzling in spring training — was the fact that he had an opportunity to play every day with David Ortiz on the shelf.

When David Ortiz returns from the disabled list, it will all but force the Red Sox hand in terms of making a move with Bradley. The promise of making him the everyday left fielder has been re-evaluated in real time. This is not the problem. In fact, there is no problem.

When the Red Sox choose to start Jackie Bradley Jr’s service time clock this spring, worrying about losing a year of his control down the road represented the best-case scenario. If Bradley burst, fully-formed, onto the big league stage, figuring out what do to as he entered his arbitration years is the kind of First World Problem the Sox wish they had.

Instead, they have a very young player performing as very young players often do. He is likely headed back to the minor leagues, thus slowing his service time clock, just as waiting to call him up would have accomplished all the same.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is not Mike Trout nor is he Bryce Harper. He has the potential to be a fine player in the big leagues but expecting him to hit the ground running at highest level of baseball and never look back is foolish. The Red Sox front office is many things, foolish is not one I’d toss out there easily.

The struggles of Bradley, while disappointing, cannot come as too great a surprise to anyone close to the team. If anything, this cameo appearance game him something to work on and develop at Triple-A as he loads up for his next run to the show in addition to demonstrating some very positive building blocks in the young outfielder’s plate patience and defense.

If Ortiz’s return to health is delayed, the Red Sox face a different set of problems related to Bradley. Making another roster move just to get him off the roster won’t exactly send the most positive message, should that be a concern of the Sox front office. Squeezing him out with the franchise talisman returns is the best case scenario for all involved, Bradley included. He’ll be back and odds are he’ll be fine.