Going into spring training the Red Sox had no thoughts about possibly having 22-year-old outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. on their Opening Day roster. The 40th overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t played any games past the AA level and has only been a professional for one full season.
Things have changed in Florida in the past few weeks, however, as Bradley Jr. has been on a tear, and coupled with a few injuries there is now serious consideration to having him on the major league roster come April 1.
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Bradley Jr. was hitting .436 (17-for-39) with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs in 18 games this spring as of Tuesday. He also has a blistering on-base percentage of .551. Add in the injuries to David Ortiz and Stephen Drew, with their availability for Opening Day in question, and Bradley Jr. just may have a shot at making the big league club.
"Oh yeah," Ortiz said to reporters in Fort Myers. "If he's hitting .500, yes. I heard he's a really good player. I haven't been able to really watch him because they keep me indoors doing a whole bunch of things [to rehab two injured heels]. I heard he has skills. Never know."
There are some long-term factors in regards to Bradley Jr., who was tabbed as Jacoby Ellsbury’s replacement if he were to sign with another team following this season. Because Bradley Jr. is not on the 40-man roster right now, if the Red Sox wait until April 12 (or after) to call him up, then the earliest he will be able to hit free agency is after the 2019 season. But if he is on the roster before April 12, he would hit free agency following the 2018 season.
If he were to be on the Opening Day roster, it wouldn’t necessarily mean playing everyday. The team is set with Jonny Gomes, Ellsbury and Shane Victorino in the outfield, but the team will need a DH if Ortiz is out of the lineup, which could be Gomes or Victorino from time-to-time.
With only 138 games of professional experience, none past the AA level, it is in the Red Sox' best interest to start him in Pawtucket, then call him up at some point during the season. A guarantee of playing everyday is the best thing for the Sox’ top prospect, and add in the bonus of being under contract an extra year, this decision should be a no-brainer.
Follow Metro Boston Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84