As we all know by now, Grady Sizemore was named to the Opening Day roster, and will be manning center field Monday for the season opener. This seemed pretty improbable when he was signed, as he hasn't played in two years, and was seen more as outfield insurance than anything else. Now, the former-presumed starter Jackie Bradley finds himself back down at Triple-A, waiting for an injury (or other roster move) to allow him to come back to the big-league club.
Unfortunately for Boston's top outfield prospect, this move has been paired with a growing sentiment that this is a sign of dwindling faith the Red Sox have in him. However, this doesn't appear to be the case at all. While getting Bradley more seasoning in the minors was likely part of Ben Cherington's plan, that's far from the biggest reason for the move. It's not close to the time to give up on the South Carolina product.
Bradley's biggest naysayers have been quick to point out his poor spring training numbers as their first line of defense. For those who haven't been paying attention, he hit just .158/.213/.263 against Grapefruit League opponents this year in 61 plate appearances. Of course, I needn't remind you how unreliable these numbers are. One doesn't have to look too far to figure that out, as Bradley's torrid spring a year ago earned him an Opening Day roster spot far before he was ready. This leads us to the next knock against him: his regular season numbers from a year ago. To wit, he hit .189/.280/.337 (69 OPS+) in 107 trips to the plate. This is skewed by his first month of play, when he had only limited experience above A-ball. In that original stint, Bradley put up a 392 OPS in 38 plate appearances, compared to his 727 OPS in his final 69 PA's. He still has to prove he can handle major-league pitching on a regular basis, but he has done little to definitively suggest that he can't.
Ben Cherington has acknowledged that he still feels Bradley can and will be a big part of Boston's future. This move was seemingly made strictly for depth purposes. As it stands right now, the Red Sox find themselves with six outfielders capable of making a major-league roster (if you consider Mike Carp an outfielder). The fact is, there wasn't room for both Carp and Bradley on the roster. While Bradley's defensive versatility would've been helpful for a roster with two injury prone players manning the toughest defensive outfield positions, they couldn't have sent Carp to the minors. They would've either had to pass Carp through waivers, where he almost certainly would've been picked up, or traded him for extra pieces. By sending Bradley down, they retain their depth. It's become clear by now that Boston values Carp's bat off the bench, and this is the only way they could keep it around. While the move has to be tough for Bradley, who spent most of the winter presumably thinking the center field job was his, it's certainly not a reason for him to be discouraged. He will be the first player called up in the event of an injury - which may come sooner rather than later with Shane Victorino heading to get an MRI today.
There's no reason to believe that Bradley's demotion is any sort of sign the Red Sox are losing faith in his ability to contribute at the major-league level. This weekend, I saw a comparison to Lars Anderson, which is borderline insane. Could Bradley wind up being a bust? Of course, that's the nature of prospects. Xander Bogaerts could be a bust too. There's little to no reason to feel that way about Bradley yet, though. His sample in regular-season games is too small to judge, and he was improving as the season went on. His spring stats can be thrown out, as shown by how misleading his were just one year ago. This was a move that had nothing to do with the team's faith in their young outfielder. It was a move made to preserve depth, something that played a major role in Boston's championship last season. With Sizemore and Victorino ahead of him on the depth chart, Bradley will have his chances to prove himself this year, and there are plenty of reasons to have faith that he can do so.