NEW YORK — Jackie Bradley Jr. led the University of South Carolina to back-to-back College World Series championships in 2010 and ‘11. He was then the 40th overall pick of the draft.
In his first three seasons in the Red Sox organization, Bradley hit .297 with a .404 on-base percentage and a .417 slugging percentage. He raced through the minors and made the Sox out of spring training in 2013 by hitting .419 in 28 games.
Yet some would have you believe that Bradley isn’t a hard worker or coachable and that’s why he was demoted to Triple A Pawtucket last month.
It’s a ridiculous accusation to make based on his career accomplishments, particularly anonymously, but that’s what “two league sources” did on the Over The Monster blog. But now it’s out there and has to be addressed.
General manager Ben Cherington, to his credit, flatly denied it on Wednesday. Perhaps he should examine whether the people anonymously trashing a 24-year-old player are within the Sox organization and what their agenda is.
Bradley took to Twitter to express his disdain.
“Say what you want about me as a ball player but trying to tarnish my character or my work ethic isn’t going to fly. … truth will reveal itself,” he wrote.
No wonder he’s upset. Let’s look at a few facts:
■ Bradley had played 61 games above Single A when the Red Sox promoted him to the majors in 2013. He wasn’t ready and it showed in his performance. The Red Sox sent him to the minors and he performed well at Pawtucket in his first taste of Triple A.
■ Bradley had a poor spring training this season (he hit .158 in 19 games) and was sent to Triple A in late March. But he made the Opening Day roster when Shane Victorino strained a hamstring because the Sox were wholly lacking in outfield depth. Their solution for center field was the Ghost of Grady Sizemore, and Bradley quickly displaced him.
But Bradley wasn’t ready and it showed. He was awful at the plate, hitting .216 with a .578 OPS. He should have been in Pawtucket this season and hit his way into consideration. Instead he was left to drown in the majors because there weren’t better alternatives.
A Globe story last month detailed how Bradley and Xander Bogaerts were not put in a position to succeed.
■ As for coaching, consider that hitting coach Greg Colbrunn was away from the team for five weeks after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Then the job fell to assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez with assistance from minor league coach Tim Hyers. Then Colbrunn returned but didn’t travel right away. Hyers was around for a bit, then left.
Over the course of nearly two months, the Sox had three hitting coaches and Bradley was getting advice from all corners. A week before he was demoted, he told the Globe it was confusing.
“You get a lot of voices and a lot of thoughts. I feel like I know myself best and I know my swing,” he said. “I need to get back to that.”
When Bradley was demoted, he was told he needed to be willing to talk through his problems more. But being quietly industrious served him well in the past and the Red Sox never had a problem with it then. They knew his personality when they drafted him. Back in 2013, Bradley was praised in spring training by the coaches for his work ethic and low-maintenance ways.
That changed in a year? Now he’s stubborn?
There’s plenty of blame to go around for this lost season. If Bradley’s critics are coming from inside the clubhouse, they should examine their own culpability first.
■ Meanwhile, the Sox didn’t do much for Bradley’s confidence by moving Mookie Betts to center field and signing Rusney Castillo. After showing faith in Bradley in April, they shifted Betts in May and signed Castillo in August.
Add it up and you have a young player already in a career crisis.
Bradley is still the same player he was when the Red Sox drafted him and the same player who impressed everybody in the minors. Once he gets a chance to hone that talent correctly, Bradley will emerge as a productive major leaguer.
His defense alone makes him a valuable player and the bat will get there. Bradley won’t be a power hitter, but he’ll be an above-average OBP player with a fair amount of doubles and 15 or so steals.
The Red Sox should do Bradley a favor and trade him. There’s seemingly no room for him with the Sox and now he’s getting slandered. A smart GM will buy low on him and get a good player.