Can Jackie Bradley Jr. hit big league pitching? There’s only one way to find out, and it’s probably not the status quo. At least that’s how his agent, Scott Boras, appears to view his client’s situation.
“Jackie’s tearing up Triple A. I’ve got a lot of scouts telling me this guy is a player that a lot of clubs don’t have,” Bradley’s agent, Scott Boras, said last week. “He’s an extraordinary defender. Certainly the Red Sox know that if they don’t have that opening, you know that he’s going to be a commodity in demand. There really aren’t that many players, particularly with that one tool of defense. Jackie can lead off and really be a fine major leaguer for a long time.”
Bradley indeed has been a standout this year in Pawtucket, a pattern that continued into the weekend. The 25-year-old posted back-to-back three-hit games on Friday and Saturday, going 3-for-5 in both contests for his seventh and eighth contests of the season, and he clubbed a pair of homers on Friday. His line of the year now sits at .312 (third-best in the Triple A International League) with a .387 OBP (2nd) and .466 slugging mark (5th in the league). Meanwhile, he’s striking out in just 14.0 percent of plate appearances for the PawSox – roughly half the rate at which he whiffed last year, and his lowest at any level since he was with High A Salem for the first half of the 2012 season.
Yet he hasn’t been capable of capitalizing on the limited opportunities he’s had this year in the big leagues, hitting just .133/.229/.233 in 35 plate appearances. The fact that his struggles came in a fairly limited window – aside from a week in the lineup at the end of June, he hasn’t appeared in more than three straight games this year – make it difficult to evaluate whether he has indeed turned a corner that can permit him to perform in the big leagues, or if the same shortcomings that characterized his 2014 season will repeat themselves, essentially relegating Bradley to something between AAAA or fourth-outfielder status.
While Bradley has been performing like someone who needs to be challenged in a sink-or-swim big league trial, Red Sox righfielders have combined to post a .214 average (worst among all 30 teams’ rightfielders), .280 OBP (28th), .296 slugging mark (30th), and three homers (tied for last). That combination of factors suggests a potential fork in the road in the not-too-distant future, in which the Red Sox either give Bradley another shot in the big leagues to see if he can assert himself as part of the outfield mix for the rest of this year and into 2016 or if he will instead become an intriguing trade chip – at a time when several teams could be looking for outfield help.
Yet there’s a chicken-and-egg problem with Bradley’s trade value. His offensive struggles in the big leagues have been sufficiently pronounced that one evaluator whose team needs outfield help suggested that, given Bradley’s lack of a major league track record, his club was unlikely to pursue him unless “Boston wanted nothing in return.” Another evaluator, however, suggested that he believed Bradley’s offensive improvements have put him in the mix to once again be an everyday centerfielder who would make a sensible target for a team in need of outfield help.
Those disparate views suggest that a) Bradley does retain trade value in the eyes of some clubs but b) it’s far from peak value, a contrast to the outfielder’s pre-2013 and pre-2014 standing when he represented a desirable potential get in the eyes of virtually every club.
But there’s only one way to increase Bradley’s value beyond its current point. In all likelihood, there’s nothing he can do in Pawtucket at this juncture to become a more valuable trade chip, or to make a more compelling case for his big league readiness. The only way to get full value either from or for Bradley – and, for that matter, to resolve the disparate views of his market worth – will be for him to get another big league opportunity.