Five years ago next month Jackie Bradley was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. While Red Sox Nation knew very little about him, I already knew plenty about him. He was a fellow Gamecock, a guy I had watched from his very first game his freshman year at The University of South Carolina.
The last five years have been filled with ups and downs for JBJ. I took his struggles personally since I always felt the need to defend him. It was strange watching my two passions, the Gamecocks and Red Sox, merge into one in the form of Jackie.
The truth is, the Red Sox were lucky to get Bradley in the draft. Red Sox fans at the time didn't see it as luck as they questioned the drop in his numbers during his final year in college.
A combination of a bad wrist and the pressure of being heralded as a potential top five pick in the MLB Draft made Bradley's numbers look pedestrian and it scared off a handful of organizations to the benefit of the Red Sox.
It appears JBJ has arrived a bona fide big leaguer. His glove was never the question but coming into the year he was just a .225 career hitter. He is now hitting .322 on the season while driving in 26 runs. He has more runs driven in this year than Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Price Fielder, Joey Votto and Adrian Beltre.
Five years ago I predicted Bradley's tough final year in college would ultimately be a blessing to the Red Sox. It appears that notion has finally come true. Here is my article from June 10, 2011:
Jackie Bradley: Gamecock Nation to Red Sox Nation
The Red Sox used their second pick in the MLB Draft to take Jackie Bradley Jr. from the University of South Carolina. I have heard from many Red Sox fans since then voicing their concern over the Red Sox selection. They point to Bradley's 2011 numbers along with his wrist injury which appears to have ended his college career. I understand the concerns but I have been lucky enough to watch Jackie play the last three seasons. Let's break down exactly what the Red Sox organization is getting.
I brought up the concern over Bradley's 2011 numbers but let's not forget the numbers from 2009 and 2010.
2009: .349/.431/.537 11 HR 46 RBI 255 AB
2010: .368/.473/.587 13 HR 60 RBI 242 AB
2010 also concluded with a Gamecock national title in which Bradley was named MVP of the College World Series.
Coming into the 2011 season Bradley was thought of highly. So highly that when I asked around about the possibility of Bradley falling to the Red Sox in the draft I was told there was no chance. Bradley was projected to go in the top ten of the draft at the beginning of 2011.
The Virginia native can hit for power, hit for average, has a great glove with great range. The only thing he is lacking is the ability to be a prolific base stealer. He has 16 stolen bases in 22 attempts for his college career. Bradley did take exception to this explaining that the Gamecocks were never a team that liked to run.
The numbers at the plate in his first two years say it all. When talking defense I leave it to Aaron Fitt of Baseball America who called Bradley the best defensive player in the nation.
The 2011 season wasn't kind to JBJ, but it wasn't without it's good moments. First, let's take a look at his numbers that are the reason for concern among Red Sox fans.
2011: .259/.361/.468 6 HR 26 RBI 139 AB
Obviously these numbers are a step down from the two previous seasons, but why?
One possible explanation is the new bats. College baseball went to new bats in 2011 in an attempt to better simulate the results you would get using a wooden bat. These new bats are not as lively and offense across college baseball has dipped this year.
The difference was obvious from the very first game. The sound was different and the ball didn't jump off the bat the same way. There is no question that had an effect. Jackie did go deep on Opening Day and it was remarkable how the ball seemed to still jump off his bat in comparison to everyone else.
A few weeks later Jackie homered against the rival Clemson Tigers and it "impressed" Clemson Manager Jack Leggett so much that he had Bradley's bat confiscated. Leggett felt Bradley was getting an advantage by "heating" his bat. This led to a week long controversy between the fans of both rival schools but did drive home the point that the new bats weren't limiting Jackie's power. New bats or not, if you hit the ball on the sweet spot it will go. I think the new bats did their job in that it provided more of a gap between the great hitters and the good hitters. Jackie was still proving to be a great college hitter.
Bradley hit six homers in 139 at bats with the new bats before he was injured, a pace that would put him real close to his 12 homer a year average.
The question and concern then turns to his batting average which dropped 100 points from his previous two seasons. Ron Morris, a local Columbia, SC columnist, wrote a column saying Bradley's struggles were because of the pressure of being a potential top ten draft pick. This did not sit well with Bradley but Morris may have been onto something. It certainly is possible that Bradley may have felt the pressure and maybe tried to do too much. Slumps happen in baseball for a variety of reasons, the tough part was that Jackie got hurt before he was able to break out of the slump.
Bradley was still on the board when the Red Sox were ready to make their first round supplemental draft pick. It was a compensation pick they obtained from the Rangers for letting Adrian Beltre walk in his free agent year. It was the 40th overall pick and the Red Sox drafted a top ten talent. These are the kind of steals that can benefit an organization for years to come. It also doesn't hurt that one of my all time favorite Gamecock players is now going to be a key piece to the future of my beloved Red Sox. From Gamecock Nation to Red Sox Nation. It doesn't get any better than that.