No, they didn't give Jackie Bradley a trophy just for being awesome. But being awesome helped his Gamecocks win the National Championship. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Jackie Bradley, CF
If you hadn't noticed, Jackie Bradley has been pretty okay in his first year of full-season ball. He has more walks than strikeouts, 16 extra-base hits, 11 steals in 14 chances, taken first on a hit-by-pitch six times, and played well defensively in center. Alex Speier reminds us that the last two players to come out of college and hit like this in the minors for the Red Sox were Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. Time to put your excited face on, folks.
Bradley's injuries in 2011 hurt his draft stock, but it's clear he's over whatever was holding him back. The #40 pick from last year's draft has the third-highest True Average of any player with at least 150 plate appearances this year, behind Josh Hamilton and his 18 homers, but ahead of beasts like David Ortiz, Adam Dunn, and Joey Votto. That's not to say Bradley's going to hit like this forever, but saying this is an impressive start doesn't do it justice.
He's not likely to be promoted tomorrow or anything like that, but if he keeps on showing that there isn't a match for him on a High-A mound anywhere, Double-A will come sooner than later.
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Bogaerts has been impressive with the bat, too, but you need a little more context here than you do for Bradley. The numbers aren't as eye-popping, but we're talking about a 19-year-old in High-A, where the average age for hitters is 22.5 years old. The fact he's not striking out constantly, and has managed to draw walks, is noteworthy on its own.
His last 10 games have not gone well overall, dragging his line down thanks to a .189/.302/.216 showing. But there are going to be struggles like this for a player this young and inexperienced. It's how he bounces back from failure that will give us an indication of the kind of player he could turn into. He's in a rough patch right now, but in a few weeks or a month, we might have already forgotten about this stretch entirely. Or we'll start to see that Bogaerts might need another year in High-A before pitchers opposing Portland need to fear his bat.
Matt Barnes, SP
Barnes gave up a homer, so he's clearly plateaued as a prospect. Might as well just convert him to relief now, right?
The 22-year-old right-hander has made two starts at High-A, and is striking hitters out at a slightly higher clip. He's also walking less than a batter per nine innings, so he's in that exclusive club where K/BB ratio is higher than strikeout rate. He has 62 punch outs in 38 innings of work, and that's over 12 times as many whiffs as walks.
It's far too early in the year to think about changing his ceiling -- we're still talking about a pitcher that many see as a three, while the most-optimistic see as a two -- so don't go thinking this dominance means he's completely different from the pitcher he was believed to be. He's still got things to work on, especially with his secondary stuff, but as Kevin Goldstein recently noted at Baseball Prospectus, Barnes showed off a good-looking, swing-and-miss curve at High-A already.
He'll need more of that to keep putting away High-A hitters, and in order to earn a promotion to Double-A. But honestly, if he is able to do this, his timetable will be accelerated, and he'll be joining Anthony Ranaudo, a pitcher drafted a year before he was, at Double-A before the season is over. That's a long way off, given he has just the 12 innings and two starts at High-A. But it is in the cards, should his secondary stuff consistently come around as it needs to.