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Jackie Bradley has the breakout campaign the Red Sox were hoping to see, and Brandon Jacobs heads in the opposite direction as a follow-up to his own breakout.
With the minor-league regular season over, it's time to look back at what the farm has accomplished in 2012. The plan is go to team-by-team, as we did for our daily prospect updates, but this time around, we'll review by position, so you get a sense of where the Red Sox are strong and where they are lacking depth.
Jackie Bradley, CF
Bradley was one of Boston's most impressive prospects in 2012, as he did everything the Red Sox hoped he would when they rolled the dice on him with the #40 pick in the 2011 draft. Bradley was considered a top 10 talent whose stock had suffered due to injury and a mediocre season, and because of this, he fell to Boston in the supplemental first. The 22-year-old proceeded to dominate High-A Salem, putting up some of the Carolina League's best numbers in his half-season there, before moving on to Double-A Portland. While .271/.373/.437 is nowhere near as eye-popping as his Salem line, for a player in his first full year of pro ball, to get to Double-A and do that well is impressive in its own right.
Bradley is now considered by many to be a top 100, if not top 50, prospect, and easily one of the most valuable in the Red Sox system. His speed has value on the bases and in the outfield, where he projects to be a plus defender in center field. He drew walks 17 percent of the time at High-A, and 13 percent of the time at Double-A, and not because he was passive: Bradley kept his strikeout rates down to 13 and 18 percent, respectively, putting the ball in play often whenever he wasn't strolling at a leisurely pace to first, courtesy of the opposing pitcher.
He's likely to start 2013 with Portland once more, but the opportunity is there for a mid-season promotion to Pawtucket, if not earlier, just like he was able to do this past season. The hope, both internal and for fans, is for Bradley to be major-league ready by 2014, either in case Jacoby Ellsbury doesn't re-sign when he hits the free agent market, or because then Bradley will be ready to flank Ellsbury in Boston's outfield, giving them a ridiculous defensive alignment.
Brandon Jacobs, LF
Jacobs had a strong 2011 campaign, but there were warning signs that it couldn't be easily replicated. Jacobs punched out 25 percent of the time, not an alarming rate, but high enough, especially when combined with his .381 batting average on balls in play. Jacobs hit .303 with a BABIP that lofty, and while he generates a lot of liners with his swing, .381 is a lot to repeat year in and year out. Jacobs struck out 26 percent of the time in 2012, but this time around, his BABIP was .324 -- unsurprisingly, his batting average fell to .252, and his overall line to .252/.322/.410.
The walk rate isn't high enough for someone that reliant on BABIP, and while some of the disappearance of his power can be attributed to the hamate injury he suffered -- one he'll likely receive off-season surgery to fix -- it's not as if he was crushing the ball in the first half before his hamate started to really bother him. Jacobs posted a 137 Isolated Power in the first half, then 177 in the second, neither at the same rate as 2011's .202.
Of course, Jacobs is just 21 years old, had just moved to a league where your average hitter is 22.5 years old and hit .257/.327/.390, and was dealing with injury. Even a repeat at the level wouldn't be a terrible thing, but this is a reminder that his reliance on BABIP does leave him little wiggle room in some ways. If he's not totally on, he's not going to be as productive, and since he's already stuck in left field despite just now being of drinking age, you can't expect him to produce much elsewhere on the field, either. Jacobs remains an intriguing prospect, but he's no guarantee to repeat 2011 just because he's done it once.