So I was going to write, at some point, something about spring training's most intriguing stories. But then Jackie Bradley Jr. popped up on my television this morning and I got all intrigued and stuff so here's a short essay about Jackie Bradley Jr.
First off, I should mention that over at Baseball-Reference.com and in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook, he's just Jackie Bradley. But right there on the back of his jersey it says Bradley Jr. Which is good enough for me; even though I'm generally against tacking on the Jr. -- after all, I'm a Junior and nobody adds it to my last name, and it's not like we were ever in real danger of confusing Cal Ripken with his father -- I think it's different when it's on the uniform. When it's on the uniform, we may assume the player wants to be identified as Junior. Which is fine by me.
Second, we should probably settle down. Jackie Bradley Jr. is a fine prospect, but it's not clear that he's ready to step into the Red Sox lineup on Opening Day and produce. And of course there's also the financial considerations. If the Rays are sending Wil Myers back to Class AAA to save a few dollars, shouldn't we expect the Red Sox to send Bradley to Triple-A for the first time, if only to delay his arbitration clock?
People are talking about Jackie Bradley Jr. because he's been fantastic this spring. After a first-inning double, Bradley's now batting .452, and he's drawn eight walks against just five strikeouts. Via the magic of Baseball-Reference.com, we know that Bradley hasn't faced great pitching this season; roughly speaking, he's faced Triple-A pitching. Still, .452 with more walks than strikeouts is impressive.
They're also talking about him, I think, because he seems like such a delightful young man. In college (South Carolina), Bradley sported a goatee and looked, quite frankly, like a grown man. Now he's clean-shaven and, as softly as he speaks, could easily pass for 17 or 18 years old. This might sound odd, but it's easier for grown baseball men to get excited about a talented player who still gets carded when he tries to order a beer. Because if he looks like he's 18, he must still have an immense amount of untapped potential.
Which might or might not be the case with Jackie Bradley Jr. What we do know is that he'll turn 23 in a few weeks. Which is an argument for giving him a shot pretty soon; if he's really a good player, he should be ready now or soon.
He also seems like a delightful young man. Before Wednesday's game, Buster Olney asked Bradley about his plate discipline
Back when I was a freshman in high school ... I was in Legion ball, and I worked with a guy by the name of Donnie Breedingham, and he helped me develop a two-strike approach. A lot of guys are afraid to go to two strikes because, you know, they have that fear of strikin' out. So in order to work on two strikes, you gotta get to two strikes. And being able to work from there, that's where it all began with me.
I'm just guessing on the spelling of "Donnie Breedingham", but he'll be famous if Bradley becomes a star. According to The Boston Herald, Bradley "once went an entire American Legion season without swinging until he had first taken two strikes."
Anyway, back to Bradley's arbitration clock ... During the ESPN broadcast, there was an ongoing discussion about whether or not the Red Sox should break camp with Bradley. At one point, Orel Hershiser said the Red Sox can open the season with Bradley on the roster, then send him down later for a few weeks to delay his arbitration eligibility for a year. Which led to this exchange:
Olney: Orel, I would disagree with you on one thing. You mentioned you could always send [him] back to the minor leagues for 20 days. If he comes up and he plays well early, you are locked in. There's no way they could send him down if he played well early in the season.
Hershiser: Well I don't know about that, because if the Red Sox fall out of the race you could send him down. You know, he could play really well and in August you could send him down. In July you could send him down, if they start to feel like they are completely out of contention. But I understand, it's all a possibility.
I think Hershiser is about 90 percent wrong about this. Technically, I believe teams are prohibited from demoting a player for financial reasons. Granted, they do it every spring. But when it comes to spring-training performance, they've always got semi-plausible deniability. Wil Myers has never played in the majors, and this spring he's batted .286/.333/.429 in 17 games. So he's hardly forced the Rays' hand. But the same would be true if Myers were hitting .486; spring numbers just aren't diagnostic.
But if Jackie Bradley Jr.'s batting .286 in July or August and the Red Sox send him down, the Players Association will file a grievance and they'll probably win. Would Bradley be sitting on .286 in July or August? Probably not. He probably would be hitting low enough at some point in June or July or August that you could send him down for a few weeks "to work on some stuff" and nobody would squawk too loudly.
Why take that chance, though? Three weeks of Jackie Bradley Jr. is highly unlikely to make the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. So unless money's not an object, this is an easy call: You send him to Pawtucket and wait for him to force you to give him an every-day job in the majors.