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Jackie Bradley Jr. was sent down to the Pawtucket Red Sox on Monday. When asked by reporters about the move, he said he was “disappointed” in himself. The truth is the Red Sox should be disappointed in themselves for not handling this player better.
The mishandling of Bradley began last season when the Red Sox had him play in the first games against New York in April 2013.
Over a year ago, it all seemed to make sense. Bradley had a phenomenal 2013 Spring Training season, exceeding even the highest of expectations. Through the middle of March 2013, he was hitting .436/.551/.564 in 39 plate appearances. He was the talk of the town all month long. All of the newspapers, radio and television broadcasters asked, ‘should the Red Sox wait and let him play in Pawtucket to ensure his maturity once he arrived at Fenway Park?’ or ‘should they bring him to the opening series in New York?’ When the first days of April arrived, Bradley was in a Red Sox uniform playing centerfield in the Bronx.
He did okay during the games he played in against the Yankees. There was an exceptional catch reminding us of Fred Lynn circa 1975, and promising performances at the plate. But it did not hold.
Promoting Bradley seemed like the right move in the short term, but now looking back, with hindsight being 20/20, management made its first mistake with Bradley last season.
Ben Cherington never thought about what his predecessor, Theo Epstein, had so often said about minor league players, whether ranked in Baseball America’s top 40 prospects, or not. Epstein felt that minor league players should make 500 plate appearances before being promoted to the major league team. Yes, Bradley only played in 37 major league games over the course of the 2013 season, but the move in April was just too soon. And yes, there are far more variables than a requisite number of plate appearances. There is the quality of the hitting coach and his instruction, his exceptional defensive acumen, an ability to get a jump on a ball that makes plays seem effortless. Who can forget the excitement that he brought the fans in those chilly March days of 2013 that Red Sox Nation so badly needed after the underwhelming summer of 2012.
The impact of last year has been deeply felt this year because we no longer have a core of offensive players that can do the heavy lifting for this team, while Bradley figures out his swing, stance, and gets his repetitions at the plate in. Perhaps, if Bradley remained at the triple-A level in 2013, he would have received the offensive work he needed to be a force for this team in 2014. Instead, Bradley was forced to make adjustments to stance, positioning, and grip while under the immense pressure that comes with standing in a major league batters box every night.
The Red Sox have a great farm system and they need to manage it better. Starting with Epstein’s rule of 500 at bats would be a beginning. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts would have benefited from this management strategy. Brock Holt is a shining example of what happens when the 500 at-bat rule is employed. Holt worked his way up through the minor league system beginning in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Pirates single-A affiliate State College Spikes. Now, five years later, he is the Red Sox lead-off hitter.
Holt gets on base. Bradley, Betts, and Bogaerts could too, if the minor league staff invests in each of them the way they should have from the beginning.