The Boston Red Sox are heading into their title defending 2014 MLB season with rookies starting in two of the most important positions on the field, one of which is in center field with 23-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr. The rookie has enormous shoes to fill after the loss of free agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to the rival New York Yankees. Ellsbury has been the catalyst for the Red Sox for years, but Boston felt comfortable letting him go with Bradley waiting in the wings.
Bradley set the world on fire in Spring Training last season and earned himself the starting job in left field. His torrid play pushed the envelope and forced the Red Sox to speed up his development, however Bradley did not fulfill expectations. He did not look comfortable until his September call-up where he started to show some glimpses of the player he can be. Despite Bradley’s poor start, he has remained in good graces and the team’s intentions for him have not changed.
“I think the thing he’s expressed in the early days of being down here is he’s aware a little bit more of what to expect,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told the RepublicanAmerican via the Associated Press. “He was humbled but at the same time he came out of it and finished the year on an upswing,” he added.
Questions were also created when the Red Sox signed outfielder Grady Sizemore to a one-year contract as an insurance plan. The team was adamant about the fact that faith in Bradley was unwavering.
“You want someone to have confidence in you,” Bradley said at Spring Training on Tuesday afternoon according to ESPN. “But even if they don’t have confidence in me, I have confidence in myself,” he added.
The Red Sox drafted Bradley 40th overall in the 2011 draft after a decorated college career out of the University of South Carolina. Bradley quickly progressed up the ranks in the minor leagues due to his uncanny defensive prowess in center field and mature approach at the plate that resulted in a plethora of walks and line drives. Little of that translated in his brief stint with the Red Sox last year as he hit just .189, albeit in just 107 plate appearances.
The unfair pressure that may be placed on Bradley will have a lot to do with him having to live up to the lofty expectations set by former Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is a .297 career hitter and has a trio of 50-steal seasons under his belt. He set the bar very high and there will undoubtedly be some sad Red Sox fans without him in center, but that should not matter to Bradley. He does not need to be Ellsbury, he just needs to be Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Red Sox are putting faith in Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field and hoping that this is the year that it pays off for them. Losing Ellsbury is a big hit, but the sentiment is that the Yankees drastically overpaid for him. The Red Sox have known for a couple of years that their future center fielder was waiting in the wings, and now it is time to reap the benefits.
By Justin Hussong