It’s an important year for Jackie Bradley Jr. We already know what a phenomenal defensive center fielder he is. It seems like he’s got a play on the SportsCenter top 10 every other day, but the Red Sox organization is still waiting for his to bat to catch up.
As a rookie in 2014, JBJ hit a dreadful .198, good for dead last for qualifying AL CF’s. 2015 saw him bring that BA up to .249, and then in 2016 he raised it again to a respectable .267. It seemed like his progression was coming along and Bradley could soon become a key fixture in the order for the Sox, but then he hit just .245 in 2017, a .22 point drop from the previous season. Now, all of a sudden, there’s a lot of doubt surrounding JBJ’s stock and place within the team.
Although he possesses pretty good power (53 HR over the last 3 seasons), I don’t think there’s anyone out there who believes that Bradley could ever become an elite hitter. But with a stacked lineup around him, he doesn’t need to be. There is a role he could fit into.
I think the importance of having a guy at the bottom of the order with a high OBP is often overlooked for this squad. Mookie Betts is almost definitely going to hit leadoff this year, and as we saw in 2016 and 2017, he has the ability to drive in a ton of runs; he just needs someone in front of him to get on base consistently. Bradley (presumably batting 9th this year) could be that guy. He just needs to become more disciplined at the plate.
If he can lower his strikeout rate (28% for his career), put a few more balls in play, and bring his BA back up to the .270 region and hold an OBP around .350, he could use his above average speed to make some things happen on the basepaths. It’s already been reported by the Boston Herald that, while Alex Cora wants to rein in the Sox’s aggressiveness on the basepaths as a whole, he plans on giving JBJ a little more freedom to run once he’s on base.
With a supremely talented top of the order hitting directly behind him (Betts and Andrew Benintendi, the most likely 1-2 batters, combined for 192 RBI in 2017), it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bradley Jr. score upwards of 75 runs this year, so long as he can make things happen with his bat.
Whether or not he’ll be able to do that is yet to be seen, but I’d venture to say that his long-term future with the Sox depends on it.