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Bradley ready for center stage

Posted by Craig Forde  February 26, 2013 09:19 AM

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Bradley.jpgThe Jackie Bradley Jr. era officially began on August 23rd, 2011 when he drew a walk against the Staten Island Yankees in his first his professional at-bat with the Lowell Spinners.

Two months prior to that he was the 40th overall pick in the MLB draft and now, just 20 months later, he finds himself in his first major league Spring Training camp, which has many thinking he is on a fast track to the big leagues.

In less than two full seasons he has jumped up four levels in the organization, going from Lowell to Greenville in 2011 and then Salem to Portland a season ago.

Projections have him starting the 2013 season in Pawtucket, another step up, and yet a leap up one more level this season would not be out of the question.

“I don’t think that [the Red Sox] have too many expectations for me right now,” said a humble Bradley who is trying to keep it all in perspective. “Maybe in years to come.

“Stay healthy, that’s what I want to do. Honestly, it sounds so simple, but staying healthy gives you the best opportunity to stay on the field and perform at a high level. Everything else you just kind of let take care of itself.”

Given the current state of the Boston Red Sox outfield, the pieces are in place that could make Bradley’s ascension happen sooner than even he might expect.

With center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury set to become a free agent at season’s end, coupled with the outfield depth chart being filled by the likes of Shane Victorino, Johnny Gomes, Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney and Mitch Maier, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think that if Bradley shines bright early, and one of these players falters or gets injured, that he could roam the Fenway outfield in 2013.

Gaining valuable experience this offseason, Bradley was part of the Red Sox rookie development camp in Boston back in January and was a non-roster invitee to Fort Myers this spring, where he hopes to use the opportunity not just to show what he can do, but to gain even more knowledge while he is at it.

“I think coming [to Boston] for the rookie program…was very big,” Bradley said. “It kind of gave a head start to see where you’re at and I was very pleased with where I was at and progressing.

“[Spring Training is] an opportunity to learn from the veteran guys. See how they go about their business, their mannerisms. Pick their brains a little bit, try to find out what it takes to get [to the majors] where they are and stay there.”

In 128 games between Salem (67 games) and Portland (61) last year, Bradley’s complete array of tools were on display with evidence in the numbers: .315 batting average, 9 home runs, 63 RBIs, 24 stolen bases, .973 field percentage (with three assists).

In 575 plate appearances he walked 87 times, struck out 89 times, had a .911 OPS and was named Carolina League All-Star and the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.

On Monday he picked up a single off of 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey in a game against Toronto where we went 3-for-3 with a double, walk and hit by pitch.

His .667 average through three games is tops on the Boston roster this spring, earning him a spot atop the Sox lineup in Tuesday’s game versus the St. Louis Cardinals.

Allowing him the opportunity to showcase these skills at the top level could become the x-factor in determining if Ellsbury will be worth the dollars he will command at season’s end, but for now Bradley is just concerned with making a name for himself as a baseball player.

“I just feel like I should get out there a little more,” Bradley said during a late January stop in Pawtucket. “I want to bounce around, be able to speak and make myself known.”

The way that Bradley is letting his actions handle much of his speaking between the white lines, there will soon be few who are unaware of what this future star is capable of.

Craig Forde can be reached at cforde@globe.com and you can follow him on Twitter @OnDeckBDC.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Craig Forde covers baseball talent as it develops into the next big thing. He has covered high school and college sports for the Boston Globe, and the minor league teams More »

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