OMAHA, NE - Jackie Bradley, Jr., formerly of the South Carolina Gamecocks, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a first inning run against the UCLA Bruins during Game 1 of the men's NCAA College Baseball World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The last of four first-round picks in last year's draft, Jackie Bradley Jr. is the one with the most advanced assignment. That's because the 22-year-old spent last summer playing for the Low-A Lowell Spinners and Single-A Greenville. It was just 40 plate appearances in 10 games, but that was enough for the Red Sox to bump him another level for 2012.
Bradley was expected to go earlier in the draft, but his 2011 was slowed by injuries. The Red Sox benefited from this, snagging him in the sandwich round, and he's made the most of that to start this season. Bradley is at .316/.453/.368 with two doubles and three steals in his first 53 plate appearances. From the look of his numbers, it seems as if he's seeing the ball well, too, with 11 walks against seven strikeouts to begin the year.
It's too early to draw any conclusions, but it's a solid start after a mostly-down 2011, both professionally and in college. He'll be a name to watch all year long, especially since he's already 22 years old. If he hits well, maybe he'll be moved up to Double-A during the season. He's likely the first of last season's first rounders to make it there, unless Matt Barnes decimates High-A the same way he's ruining the South Atlantic League.
One of the least-surprising promotions for 2012 was that of Xander Bogaerts to High-A. He's all of 19 years old, but after hitting 16 homers and posting a .249 Isolated Power as a shortstop in Single-A, it was basically a given he would see a move to the next level. There's no real rush on Bogaerts, given his youth, but a strong follow-up campaign to last year would give us some more clarity on just what he could become.
Things have started off well enough, as he's collected six extra-base hits in 12 games, as well as a .289/.373/.467 line. Strikeout rates haven't stabilized (and won't for some time), but he's whiffing less than he did last year despite the promotion. He didn't strike out a ton last year, but he did hit just .260 -- more contact is something to watch for, especially given his prodigious power.
For what it's worth, the Red Sox still have him at shortstop. Many scouts believe he'll eventually end up at third or in a corner outfield spot, but until his body develops in a way that forces the issue, Boston seems intent on keeping him at short. There's no reason not to, either, in the off chance he continues to handle short even as he fills out.
Drake Britton is still a mess. After 12-1/3 innings, he's allowed 19 earned runs (and 21 overall), for an ERA of 13.86. He has just six strikeouts, and when you combine the two hit batsmen, just as many walks. He looks different in his approach, and that's something, but the results haven't started to come through in 2012 just yet.
Britton has great stuff, but in the last year he's seem to have forgotten how to utilize it. Not getting down and focusing on the job at hand is a good way to start repairing the damage to his prospect status that 2011 caused, but a positive outlook will only take him so far.* It's unfair to criticize too much given it's all of three appearances (and just one start), but you have to think at some point that faith in him is going to waver if things don't change.
*Don't take that as a criticism of Jon Meoli's wonderful piece. It's just best to be realistic about a prospect's shortcomings, and Britton has those on display even if he's started to thin them out.
There's a lot to like about Britton, and reasons to believe that he can put 2011 behind him while recapturing some of his previous ability. He's still just 23, too, and could move up to Double-A Portland if he starts to put things together. It's just been awhile since we wrote about noticeable progress for his career. Results aren't everything with prospects, though, and patience is required.