Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is batting .216 this season with a .578 OPS, one home run, 30 RBI, and a staggering 111 strikeouts in 112 games.
The team’s decision to move the Gold Glove-worthy center fielder to the minors isn’t a surprising one. Frankly, as I wrote recently, it was overdue.
But, why now?
Why the day after Bradley singled twice against the Astros for his first multi-hit game since July 25, a game in which he reached base three times in four at-bats? Why when he’s hit safely in four of his last five contests? Why when the struggling outfielder is batting .313 with a .713 OPS over his last 20 plate appearances, after he failed to touch first base in 35 consecutive at-bats spanning?
Why make this move when Bradley is finally developing some level of confidence at the plate?
There is, of course, any number of reasons, from continuing to build his self-assurance against a lower level of pitching to further evaluating Mookie Betts to abandoning ship entirely on a future that involves the 24-year-old prospect.
Betts, just 21, has been limited to 44 career plate appearances over two stints at the big league level – far fewer than the 494 (387 this season) experienced by Bradley. In that time, the second baseman-turned-outfielder is hitting .244 with a .645 OPS and only five strikeouts. He isn’t the highlight reel, run-saving, assist-heavy defender Bradley is, but he’s no slouch either.
In Pawtucket, unlike Bradley last season, Betts has torn the cover off the ball. In 45 games since his promotion from Double-A Portland, the former fifth-round pick is batting .335 with a .920 OPS and he’s proven to be a patient and selective hitter. Over his last 10 games for the PawSox, he batted .386.
The speedy Betts most certainly deserves his shot, and it makes all the sense in the world for the Red Sox to give him a more thorough every day look before any potential offseason trade in the event he could be the team’s center fielder of the future – a distinction seemingly bestowed upon Bradley until recently. Holding an audition, so to speak, would be good business with many decisions to make next season for the outfielder roster.
Bradley has demonstrated, at least outwardly to the media, he is a confident kid. This move shouldn’t break him because it doesn’t mark his end. He will without a doubt be back at Fenway this season, likely when rosters expand in a couple of weeks. Until then, starting tonight, he’ll patrol minor league outfields across the International League.
It’s merely curious why baseball ops would make the move when the offensively-challenged youngster is finally, albeit in a very small sample, starting to find his groove.
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