FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jackie Bradley Jr. happened to be sleeping on Jan. 22 when news broke that the Red Sox had signed Grady Sizemore to a one-year contract.
He woke up soon after, his smart phone coming to life as friends and family sent text messages seeking a reaction. Instead of arriving in spring training as the starting center fielder, Bradley now would be competing for a job against a three-time All-Star.
“I didn’t have any reaction beyond I thought it was great,” Bradley said Friday. “It’s somebody else who can help the team. Whatever makes the team better is what we’re striving to do.
“I’m looking forward to getting to meet him and learn from him. The guy is a stud and hopefully he can learn from me as well as a teammate. I’ll let them make the hard decisions. I’ll just play.”
Bradley became the center fielder by default in December when Jacoby Ellsbury fled the Red Sox to sign a seven-year contract with the Yankees. General manager Ben Cherington expressed his faith in Bradley and proved it by not signing any of the established center fielders on the market.
But Bradley will still have to earn the job in camp. Sizemore is only 31 and claims to be almost fully recovered from the many injuries that kept him idle for two years. Sizemore also has connections with manager John Farrell, bench coach Torey Lovullo, and assistant general manager Mike Hazen from their shared time in the Cleveland organization.
“Competition is great. You’re out there competing every day regardless. Why not have it in this environment?” Bradley said. “I think it’s going to be fun. I’ll just go with the flow. I see it as another teammate. We’re all here for the same goal: to win another championship.”
Bradley, who turns 24 in April, is coming off a life-changing year.
He unexpectedly made the Red Sox out of spring training last season after ending 2012 in Double A Portland. But Bradley played only 37 games in four stints with the Sox. He hit .189 in 107 plate appearances.
For the first time in his career, Bradley was overmatched at the plate, getting beat repeatedly by pitches in on his hands. But he treasured the experience.
“You have to put everything in perspective. I was blessed with the opportunity to get to the big leagues after one full year of professional baseball. I wouldn’t like to say I was rushed. I put myself in that opportunity and tried to compete and have fun,” he said.
“You’re learning so much. Just hanging out with the older players and picking their brain a little bit, you learn more about the game and the life around the game. Preparation, the things that go on, getting to know your teammates. Those are the main things.”
Bradley hit .155 with a .568 OPS in his first 58 at-bats with the Sox. That improved in September when he hit .243 with a .695 OPS. Bradley hit .275 with a .374 on-base percentage in 80 games for Triple A Pawtucket.
“You always want to have improvement. You want to get more comfortable with the situation. I was bouncing back and forth and I don’t want to get used to that,” he said. “I got a feel for the majors last season and I feel like I’m going in the right direction.”
Bradley, who was married in the offseason, arrived in Fort Myers in late December and has been working steadily since on improving the strength in his legs. On Friday, during batting practice with Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, and Daniel Nava, Bradley showed a more assertive swing.
“I want to be more explosive and powerful,” Bradley said. “I think that’s going to help me with the longer season. I’m driving the ball to all fields better now. That was something I learned last season; that I needed to be stronger. It’s only 4 pounds more but I’m stronger.”
Bradley sneaked up on the Red Sox last spring. Now his competition with Sizemore will be one of the running stories of camp. He’s ready.
“I feel like I’ve grown,” Bradley said. “I’d like to think I was mature before. But life itself, you grow as a person and a player. I’m excited for what this year has to offer.”
. . .
Righthander Clay Buchholz checked in and said he would throw in the bullpen Saturday morning . . . The Red Sox have changed their road uniforms a bit and will go with red letters and numbers. The team wanted consistency with their home uniforms. The Sox last wore similar uniforms on the road in 2010 . . . Counting minor leaguers, approximately 60 players worked out on Friday under sunny skies. The majority of the players will take the weekend off.