FORT MYERS, Fla. — Yes, you’ve read this story before. You’ve read it right here.
And we will write it again. I think young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., should start the season with the Red Sox.
The circumstances now are a little different than back then.
Then David Ortiz was out, but he hadn’t had a setback. Now he’s had one, and he still feels soreness in his right heel. He’s still nowhere close to running again. A batting practice session scheduled for Monday is now on hold. Time is of the essence, and Ortiz undoubtedly will be put on the disabled list.
So what better Plan B than to create excitement on what could be a blah team by adding Bradley?
Manager John Farrell hinted back then that the call on Bradley would be a tough decision. The baseball operations people want him back at Triple A for a few reasons, including that he’s only had limited time at Double A, and that his arbitration/free agency clock starts as soon as he’s on the major league roster.
The longer a player stays in the minors, the longer it takes for him to earn bigger money.
But if you’re a big-market team such as Boston, why care about that?
Now it’s understandable to be worried that if Bradley makes the big club and doesn’t perform well, the player you regard as your great hope may suddenly be viewed in a different light. But the goal here should be to go north with your best players, and Bradley is one of Boston’s best players.
If one reads between the lines, it seems Farrell and the coaches may be on the side of keeping the kid in the big leagues. The baseball ops side may want to send him back for seasoning believing the team can get by with other alternatives for a month — or however long it will take to get Ortiz back.
Farrell said Sunday, “That’s a hell of a question,” when asked if Bradley could be on the Sox’ roster on Opening Day. “We’ve got two weeks to determine that. He’s not on the roster right now. He’d have to be added, obviously. What the counter move to that would be, would be factored into this. But you can’t deny the fact he’s had a hell of a spring training.
“The bottom line thing would be — with any young player, whether it’s Jackie or any other position player — when they come to the big leagues you want to make sure they get regular at-bats. If those are there, they become part of the equation. But I think most importantly, he’s doing whatever he can to impact a decision.”
Sunday’s lineup during the Sox’ 5-1 win over the Rays at JetBlue Park may have provided a glimpse of what it might be on Opening Day if Bradley is not on the roster.
It had Jacoby Ellsbury in center, Shane Victorino in right, Dustin Pedroia at second base, Mike Napoli at first base, Jarrod Saltalamacchia at DH, Will Middlebrooks at third, Jonny Gomes in left field, David Ross catching, and Jose Iglesias playing shortstop (because Stephen Drew has been slow to return from concussion symptoms).
That lineup accomplishes a couple of things — it gets Saltalamacchia’s power bat in the middle of the lineup and allows the better defender, Ross, to catch. But it does keep a lesser defender, Gomes, in left, where you could use Bradley.
There’s a lot for the Red Sox to think about, but you can’t deny Bradley’s dominance. Granted, some of his stats (he's hitting .444) were accumulated against pitchers who were working on things, throwing predominantly fastballs.
But even as pitchers have begun to amp things up as spring training draws closer to its conclusion, Bradley has kept up.
And Bradley, 22, isn’t a baby. He played in college, so he’s had a lot of experience.
He also seems to be handling the attention well.
“I’ve seen some of it [hype] on social media,” Bradley said. “It’s not really relayed down to me by anyone. It’s exciting. I’m still just playing the game I enjoy and having fun. You can’t really let it affect you. It’s something I’ve always been able to do and tune it out.”
He said nobody, including Farrell or anyone in the front office, has said anything to him on whether he might make the roster.
“Nope. Just y’all,” he said.
“Every day is an opportunity for me,” he said. “I just take it with stride. I’m excited no matter what. If I go down, I’ll still get my work in. I want to play in the big leagues like anyone else. Just keep working. You come here you want to make a good impression. I just hope I did that with my style of playing, hustling. Even if I wasn’t hitting so well I’m gonna be the same ballplayer and give 100 percent effort, hustle and learn.”
Bradley has seen quite a difference from lower level minors pitching to major league pitching, but it obviously hasn’t fazed him.
“They definitely have a clue of what they’re doing,” he said. “I don’t know the pitchers in-depth so I don’t know what they normally do. You see changes and try to make adjustments on the fly. It’s a back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse thing.”
When asked what he needs to do to make the big leagues, he said, “I don’t know how close I am. I haven’t played a game in the big leagues, so I don’t know what it’s like. Just keep working and take as much as I can and learn from veteran guys.”
He’s hitting for average, playing tremendous defense, showing his arm, running the bases.
Other than Ellsbury, who doesn’t have a strong arm, the Red Sox don’t have a player as talented as Bradley.
We’ll see if that’s good enough for him to be playing left field at Yankee Stadium April 1.