Amidst the dizzying array of changes that took place on the Red Sox roster over the weekend, it became difficult to keep pace with the speed of the transactions. Yet while most of the moves were dictated by early-season struggles and failures, one move was motivated by different forces.
Through the first month-plus of the minor league season, Jackie Bradley Jr. reasserted himself as the player who sprinted through the Red Sox farm system after being selected in the supplemental first round of the 2011 draft. He was, in the words of Triple A Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles, the PawSox’ “most consistent performer,” someone whose inability to escape an offensive wilderness last season in the big leagues (where he hit .198 with a .265 OBP and .266 slugging mark in 127 games) was no more.
Before his Saturday callup, Bradley wrapped up his Triple A stint with a seven-game hitting streak, six of which featured multiple hits. Over that run, he was 14-for-30 with a .467 average and .667 slugging mark. He didn’t walk but he struck out just three times in those 30 plate appearances – a notable departure from his 28 percent strikeout rate of 2014.
“The bat has definitely come around,” said Boles, who also managed Bradley in Double A Portland in 2012 as well as last year in Pawtucket. “His offensive approach is much different than last year [with a] lot less moving parts with the lower half. It’s a quiet lower half. His hands are higher. He’s able to leverage down through the ball. He’s working to all fields. And he’s been terrific. Obviously the defense is what it is – it’s world class – but his offensive approach has been tremendous. It reminds me of what he was like in Portland a few years back.”
Indeed, whereas the team worried that Bradley’s swing had become too long last year, that he was going from an all-fields hitter to someone who seemed pull-happy as he tried to keep up with velocities that were challenging him, this year in Triple A, the 25-year-old has looked more relaxed and simple with his swing. In the process, he hit .343 with a .393 OBP and .465 slugging mark while cutting his strikeout rate roughly in half (to 14 percent this year).
“He was just trying to keep it simple and to stay on the ball, not lift up out of his swing and do too much. You see the results,” Sox hitting coordinator Tim Hyers observed last week. “Jackie’s smart. He saw what happened. In the offseason, he had time to re-evaluate, put some goals together. I think he’s put the right goals in place.”
Of course, it’s one thing to have an approach that works in Triple A, quite another to show that it will translate to success at the major league level. But at a time when the Red Sox are starved for a spark – whether at the plate or in the field – Bradley’s performance compelled the Sox to give him another big league opportunity.
Manager John Farrell told reporters in Toronto over the weekend that Bradley will be in a matchup-based tandem with Shane Victorino in right field. The Sox want to see if he can build on what he’s done to this point in Pawtucket in 2015 and help provide a more versatile, functional roster than what they featured with Allen Craig. Bradley, an offseason afterthought, once again has a chance to demonstrate that he belongs.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.