OMAHA, NE: Jackie Bradley, Jr. #19 of the South Carolina Gamecocks is congratulated by teammate Whit Merrifield #5 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)
Jackie Bradley, CF
The 2011 season might have been slow for Jackie Bradley Jr. at both the collegiate and professional level, but he's making up for it now that he's in High-A. Bradley hit his first homer the other day, and has 10 extra-base hits in 23 games.
He's also showing excellent plate discipline and pitch recognition, with walks in 16 percent of his plate appearances, and strikeouts just 14 percent of the time. It's far too early for those figures to have stabilized, but for someone the Red Sox drafted more for what he could be than what he had done, it's a great sign for the 22-year-old.
There's almost nothing he hasn't done well, as he's flashed doubles power, stolen bases without having plus speed, patience, an ability to control a plate appearance, and a high batting average. Considering his age and the level, the real challenges for Bradley are going to come later -- will more advanced pitchers exploit his discipline, and take away his ability to influence the plate appearance's outcome? Will more refined backstops gun him down?
He's been playing well enough to earn the chance to find out sooner than later, at least in terms of results, and Portland's outfield isn't full enough to hold him back in High-A on its own merits forever.
Xander Bogaerts, SS
There's no need to rush Bogaerts, who is three years younger than Bradley despite more experience in the minors. But he's been equally impressive, even more so when you consider that the average age of a hitter in the Carolina League is over 22 years old.
Bogaerts struck out 24 percent of the time at Greenville as an 18-year-old, but despite the promotion to High-A, he's whiffing just 15 percent of the time. He's not doing it by being overly-aggressive, either, as he's drawing walks at an encouraging nine percent. Also, he has three homers already, slugging over .500 as a shortstop who hasn't even grown into his body yet.
While that fact means he's not a shortstop forever, look at how he's hit before he gets the body to help him drive the ball even more. He's too young to know what he's going to be, but there are already flashes, and when you piece them together you see a special prospect.
It will be interesting to see if the league starts to adjust to Bogaerts, or if he picks it up even further with more repetition against the league's arms. If it's the latter, you wonder if Boston is going to promote him aggressively, since he seems to be coming along faster than their last teenage prospect with this much potential, Will Middlebrooks.
It's unlikely, but the fact you can ponder the scenario without it seeming outright silly goes to show you just how promising Bogaerts' time in Boston's system has looked.
Drake Britton, SP
The promotion of Matt Barnes to High-A likely means the end of Drake Britton as a starting pitcher. Barnes is taking Britton's place in the rotation this Saturday, and while there's been no official word, given Britton's struggles, it's unlikely one of the other arms is moved.
That's not because Britton is a lost cause, but because, unlike someone like the 23-year-old, rarely intriguing Ryan Pressly, Britton might still have something significant to offer out of the bullpen. Britton was at his best when the Red Sox limited him to short outings following Tommy John surgery -- his 3.4 K/BB and 9.3 strikeouts per nine in 75 innings over 21 starts in 2010 is why we're all so disappointed with the last year of his career -- and he only has two viable pitches at the moment, anyway.
Britton barely used a change-up when he was attempting to learn one, and it's essentially been scrapped in favor of his fastball and slider. While his confidence is supposedly better -- he's not noticeably giving up after failing this year -- there's still far too much failure going on. His ERA is 10.71, he's striking out roughly as many hitters as he's walking, and he's been highly-susceptible to the long ball.
Put a lefty with Britton's velocity and fastball/slider combination in the bullpen, and this ship might right itself. Who knows, maybe, like Daniel Bard before him, Britton will learn to pitch to more advanced hitters out of the bullpen, rather than as a starter, and this whole process can be rebooted down the road. For now, though, starting seems like a potentially lost cause, whereas there's possible life in the bullpen for the now 23-year-old southpaw.