Jackie Bradley Jr.’s performance creates huge debate regarding opening day roster

Roy Ben-Joseph  Journal Staff

With only a week left in spring training, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell is facing some tough decisions regarding the Red Sox opening day roster, which can consist of only 25 players. It is during spring training time when anonymous players can emerge and make good impression on the manager and certainly make their case for an opening day roster spot. Of course, 99 percent of those minor league baseball players end up getting cut or sent back to the minors.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is certainly not one of those guys. He’s a first round MLB supplemental draft pick, 40th overall, and since the 22 year old was drafted out of the University of South Carolina everybody in the Red Sox farm system knew that the young Jackie Bradley Jr. would be a big leaguer, they just didn’t believe how fast his development would be.

Before spring training started it was a no-doubter that Bradley would start the season in the minors, and for him, spring training was just a way to see how he can fit with the big club. What happened next, nobody would have been able to guess. Bradley is hitting .440 with 2 HR, 9 RBI and 1.123 OPS. All are team highs. Suddenly, Bradley, according to senior MLB scouts, seems like a leader for the rookie of the year race, although in his own organization nobody even knows if Bradley is even going to make the opening day roster.

As crazy as it sounds, that might be the truth. Certainly the Red Sox would love to have his bat in the lineup when they’ll be opening their season at Yankee stadium, especially if he keeps hitting like that. Bradley is an all-around player, outstanding on defense, great sprinter, a base runner and a stealer. He is highly athletic. The only problem is that bureaucracy might put the best bat in the Red Sox lineup in the minors, at least for the first month, coming opening day. Bradley’s contract states that the Red Sox will have a sixth year option on the young slugger from Virginia should he play 11 games in the minors. Starting him on opening day in Yankee stadium wouldn’t necessarily mean that Bradley would be eligible for free agency five years from now. The sixth year condition states that he’ll have an extra year with the Red Sox should he plays those 11 games at any point of the season. The Red Sox concern is, in case Bradley will put up the same numbers he had in spring training during the regular season, how could the team send a guy that is battling for rookie of the year back to the minors during the regular season?

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim faced the same issue in 2012, when Mike Trout started the year in the minors and was promoted to the majors three weeks into the regular season. Not only he did he win Rookie of the Year, he also finished second in the MVP voting, falling short only to the historical season put on by Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, who had the first triple crown since Red Sox legend and hall of famer Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. Nowadays, Trout is ranked as the second best player in baseball, and he has only played one MLB season.

Can the Red Sox afford to play tactics five years ahead instead of focusing on right here and right now? The answer varies. Right now, it seems that the face of the Red Sox franchise in the last decade and the only guy left in the roster that won both the 2004 and 2007 World Series’ with the club, David Ortiz, will be out for opening day as a result of an Achilles injury. With Jacoby Ellsbury’s bat being very silent and far from what it was in 2011 when he finished second in MVP voting, the Red Sox are in urgent need of a left handed bat. They play in the hardest division in baseball, a division in which 95 wins might not be enough to capture the title. With the Yankees facing major injuries such as legendary captain and future hall of fame short stop Derek Jeter and also sluggers Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, the Red Sox need to try and put their full strength in opening day, especially when every team in the division is a playoff contender, including the rebuilt Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox have lost their right to make what they call smart and strategically based decisions after having their worst season since the seasons that followed legendary and hall of famer Ted Williams’ retirement in 1960. The team finished 2012 with an embarrassing 69-93 record. The ownership fired almost the entire coaching stuff and signed former pitching coach John Farrell as the new manager. 2013 must be a rebound season for the Red Sox and they will have to work hard in order to earn the Fenway faithful’s trust back. That process starts with playing the best players in the organization. The best player in the Red Sox during the 2013 spring training has been Jackie Bradley Jr. who has to be in the lineup for opening day at the Bronx.