Friday, June 10, 2011

Gamecocks 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 is what I call a 4.5 tool player. He can hit for power, average, great glove, 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, not bad but not elite either so I think the 4.5 tool description of him is more than fair.

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. These new bats are not as lively and are supposed to do a better job of simulating the results you would get when using a wooden bat.

The difference was obvious from the very first game. There was a different sound and the ball didn't jump off the bat like it had in previous seasons. There is no question that had an effect but I also remember Jackie going deep on Opening Day and it was remarkable how the ball seemed to still jump off his bat.

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. 

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 had his take on Bradley's struggles, a column that did not sit well with Bradley. Morris may have been onto something. It certainly is possible that Bradley may have felt the pressure of being so highly touted by MLB scouts and maybe did try and do too much. That is totally understandable. 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, something I am confident was going to happen very soon.

As many of you know, I am a University of South Carolina alum. I played football for the Gamecocks years ago but I have always been obsessed with baseball. I arrived in Columbia in 1993 and loved the fact that big time college baseball was right outside my Roost window.

During baseball season I could be found at the Sarge. Over the years I have had several Gamecock baseball players who have made my list of favorites. Brian Buscher was one of them. I loved the way he played. He reminded me of Pete Rose Then came the 2010 season when my beloved Gamecocks won it all. It was not all that different than when the 2004 Red Sox broke the "curse" and finally became World Champions.

 Every member of that 2010 Gamecocks team will always have a special place in my baseball heart just like every member from the 2004 Red Sox. That being said, there are always a few players who really make an impression on you.

When it comes to the Red Sox, it has always been Jason Varitek for me. Varitek is one of those guys that makes you proud to be a fan of a team. Jackie Bradley Jr. is the same way for me.

First of all, JBJ is just fun to watch play. He can do it all. Talent is fun to watch but more than that Jackie plays the game the right way. He plays hard every night and he is just as fun to watch at the plate as he is running the bases or tracking down a fly ball in the gap.

Off the field, they don't come much classier than Bradley. He is a guy you point to and have pride in knowing that he is a fellow Gamecock. That is important, especially when weekly stories come out about our drunk quarterback embarrassing himself in public again and again.

I was ecstatic when the Red Sox drafted Jackie. It was bigger than a three game sweep of the Yankees in my mind. The Red Sox got a steal. Jackie's tough season is going to turn out to benefit the Red Sox. From the Gamecocks to the Red Sox, it doesn't get any better than that.

To re-live the 2010 Gamecocks run to the national title along with more stories about Jackie Bradley Jr. check out a great new book by Travis Haney called Gamecock Glory. 


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