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Jackie Bradley Jr. and wisdom of crowds

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 22, 2013 11:13 AM

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So the Red Sox have apparently put Jackie Bradley Jr. at 50-50.

I suppose, given the overwhelming hype engulfing the feel-good story of Red Sox spring training, that I should be more precise. So here it is: 50/50 stands as the charismatic 22-year-old outfielder's chances of making the team out of camp, and not projected totals for his home runs and stolen bases this season.

I've been through this a few times already this spring, so I'll give you the condensed version here: I understand why Red Sox fans want to see Bradley in the big leagues now. His talent is obvious even to casual observers. He's had a marvelous spring at the plate. He's spectacular defensively.

And while this is an apparent bridge year for the franchise, with a shot at the second wild-card probably their most realistic best-case outcome even for those of us who tend to see the sunny side, any chance to accelerate across that bridge is tempting. We want to see these prospects we're hearing about now; this isn't 1986, when faithful Baseball America subscribers and Peter Gammons were about the only ones among us who could pick Ellis Burks out of a lineup of New Britain Red Sox.

Still, the notion that the Red Sox keep prospects in the minors too long is one you hear from time to time, and it's silly. Just because Will Middlebrooks succeeded upon arrival last year doesn't mean he would have thrived had he arrived sooner. He needed to master Triple A first, and he did. They played it right with him, just as they did with Jacoby Ellsbury (whose 2006-07 ascent is a perfect comp for what Bradley's should be) and so many before.

I get why so many fans are rooting for the 50 percent of the equation that has Bradley in left field at Yankee Stadium on April 1. Heck, watching Bradley play center field and never punt away a plate appearance (at least before his late-season slump) was the best thing about attending Portland Sea Dogs games last summer. I hate being put in the position of arguing against Bradley in any way. I love the player. He's a genuine, nice kid. He'll be a Gold Glove center fielder and a productive No. 2 hitter at his peak, maybe more than that.

Barring catastrophe, he's going to be a wildly popular core player here for a long time. But I don't understand why so many insist that time should begin right now, when an 11-day trip to Pawtucket during a season in which championship aspirations are a daydream would delay his arbitration clock and delay free agency for a year. If the question is would you rather have him for 11 days now at age 22 or a full year during his prime, isn't the answer obvious? Did I mention he's repped by Scott Boras?

The answer should be obvious, even if it means there's two weeks of delayed gratification. But I'm not sure it is to the majority. An emailer suggested Thursday that sending down Bradley for 11 days could cost the Red Sox 3-4 wins. Such a suggestion is absurd -- if he's that valuable, that means he'd roughly have five times the value of 2012 Mike Trout over the course of the season.

That would be a fairly decent ballplayer right there. That would also be humanly impossible.

After that correspondence and others like it the past few weeks, as Bradley has hit and hit and hit (albeit against what Rob Neyer noted was mostly Triple A caliber pitching), I figured I'd go to Twitter and do a little crowd sourcing. The question, as you'll unfortunately see on each of these tweets, was a simple one, paraphrased as this: Give me a player you think Bradley will equal now, and one he'll be similar to in the future.

There were lots of Dwayne Hoseys from the wise guys, absolutely no Wayne Housies, even a RIch Becker and a Lee Tinsley. (I actually think Damon Buford during his one decent season with the Sox is a reasonable expectation at the beginning).

I'm also further convinced that many of us are mixing up his upside with that of elite prospect Xander Bogaerts, Bradley is not a burner (he had 24 steals last year between High A and Double A), and his power might get to 18-20 homers. Those who look at him and see Kenny Lofton or Rickey Henderson -- even facetiously -- really aren't looking at him at all.

Anyway, here's a breakdown of some of the responses into a couple of different categories. I'd love to hear yours in the comments. (And then I will silently judge you.)

WISHFUL THINKERS, JOKERS, AND RANDOM LUNATICS



Ellsbury can be frustrating, but he did hit 32 homers one year and steal 70 bases another. Doubtful Bradley will come close to the former, and there's no chance he approaches the latter without undergoing a transplant to have Tim Raines's legs from 1981 attached.

I believe this was an Ask Nick question at one point.

Well, they do have the Junior thing in common.

MEDIA DUDES



He'll never run like Crawford. But Jennings with better defense -- Bradley's glove cannot be exaggerated -- and a higher on-base percentage is a reasonable expectation. I think he'll be better than Jennings, actually.

NOW HERE ARE SOME INTERESTING COMPS



He clarified that he meant Span now and Bostock, whose death at age 27 in 1978 is one of baseball's great tragedies, as a peak player. Bostock is a really fascinating high-end comp. He was good defensively but didn't have Bradley's center field glove. He wasn't particularly patient, but his statistics in his breakthrough '77 season -- a .336 average, 14 homers, 36 doubles, 12 triples and 16 steals -- could be something that Bradley matches at his peak.

He'll be better than Maybin. He could be Lofton, but with a fraction of the speed.

Jackson's interesting. But Hunter hit at least 26 homers five times. Bradley has a better chance of hitting five homers 26 times.



That's this year's projection for Bradley, and the Sox ones are fascinating. And while we hope and should believe Bradley will have a much better career, Becker did have his moments (12 homers, 19 steals, .372 OBP, .801 OPS for the '96 Twins). Of course, that occurred after posting an OPS of .678 at age 22 and .599 at 23.

We have a winner.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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