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When Spring Training began Jackie Bradley Jr. was all but handed the starting center field job. Though he had struggled during his brief stint in the Majors in 2013, the front office had confidence that Bradley would be an asset to the major league club. Despite Bradley Jr. being seen as the frontrunner, the Red Sox brought Grady Sizemore in on an incentive-laden contract. The hope was that he could be close to the player he was from 2005-08 when he routinely hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases a year. There was no telling whether Sizemore, who has not played in a Major League game since 2011, could become even a shadow of his former self and for a while it seemed to be nothing more than a hopeful comeback attempt. Fast forward one month and things have changed.
Sizemore has passed every physical test that the Red Sox have thrown at him while continuing to show he can be an impactful player on the field. This spring he has hit .333/.381/.462 with one home run and two doubles. Though the power has yet to come back fully, it is important remember that Sizemore has not played in over two years so there is still a considerable adjustment period to be made, the power will come in time. More importantly, Sizemore has not looked hindered on either the field or the base paths, showing that he feels comfortable with where his health is at.
Opposite of Sizemore, Bradley Jr. has struggled this spring hitting .158/.213/.263 with an alarming 17 strikeouts. Taking a look at these numbers many would hand Sizemore the starting center field job right away, but it is important to remember that this is spring training. Last year Bradley Jr. hit .419 with a .507 OBP and he made the Opening Day roster only to get demoted two weeks later. This is why spring training statistics should not be overly scrutinized. A small sample size (40-50 plate appearances) is not much to go on.
It is important to remember that when looking at Sizemore’s numbers as well. He is doing well, but how much can we really trust those number? How can we be sure he can maintain them?
Despite some concerns, the center field job should still go to Grady Sizemore. Being a natural leadoff hitter, Sizemore helps fix a part of the lineup that had some questions due to Ellsbury’s departure. There are some concerns as to whether Sizemore can handle playing every day. If Grady plays three days in a row and takes a day off, then that translates to playing 6 games a week. Sizemore played from Tuesday to Thursday this week and feels perfectly healthy which suggests this sort of schedule may work. On days where Sizemore is unavailable, Victorino can slide to center field and Nava in right.
With Sizemore taking the starting job, what does that mean for Jack Bradley Jr? Having Bradley Jr. on the bench would be an asset to the Red Sox as they could use him to help spell Grady and Victorino and keep an above-average defensive outfield on the field. Unfortunately, the benefits on keeping Bradley Jr. on the team stop there. If Jackie is to become a capable major league hitter, he needs consistent at-bats. This will not come in Boston, but more likely in Pawtucket. It’s easy to forget that Bradley Jr. is still just 23 years old and has never had a full season at either AA or AAA. Some more time in the minors can only help Jackie so it would not be a surprise to see him relegated to AAA some time this weekend.
In the end, having this many outfielders is a good problem. The players who start on Opening Day could be very different from the players starting in September and October, and in the end that is what matters. As the Red Sox showcased last year depth is key to a successful franchise and it looks as if they have the same blueprint in place for this year.
*Updated at 12: 28 pm