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Jackie Bradley Jr. key for the stretch-run and offseason

Jackie Bradley has been out of many people's minds while he has gotten some seasoning in at AAA Pawtucket. Now, however, he has a chance to play a big role in September, and the winter activities.

Otto Greule Jr

The Red Sox came into the season with a top-10 farm system in many experts' minds, and one that ranked in the top-15 for pretty much everyone else. With huge seasons from players at pretty much every level, and a draft class that was rated highly by multiple experts, the organizational depth has improved upon its already high ranking. As Xander Bogaerts was recently called up, the team's top prospect is deservedly taking all of the headlines from the prospect side of the news. Any other excitement for young players is mainly focused two young arms in the bullpen, Brandon Workman and Drake Britton. It's funny, because there was one prospect who came into the season with a tremendous amount of hype -- probably too much, to be honest. Now, he's very rarely mentioned. He'll be back in everyone's minds soon enough, though, because Jackie Bradley Jr. can be a very important person for the team, both for the stretch run this year, and how they approach the offseason.

It seems a bit odd thinking that Bradley can be such a big help to the Red Sox in September, considering how well the outfield has played this year. Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, and the mixing and matching in left field have combined to accrue the second most fWAR in baseball this year, while also putting up MLB's fifth-highest outfield wRC+ and fourth-highest wOBA. However, while he may not get many starts down the stretch, Bradley's other skills can still be very helpful during the most important time in the season.

While Ellsbury and Victorino combine to provide outstanding defense in two-thirds of the outfield, the combination of Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp leaves a lot to be desired with the leather in left field. In Fenway Park, it may not be a huge deal with the smaller-than-usual left field, but the Red Sox travel to New York, Tampa Bay, Colorado and Baltimore in September as well. In a late-game situation, where every run is crucial, it's vital to have the best defensive alignment possible in. Since by all account, Bradley could play Gold Glove-caliber center field, he would be a definite upgrade over the current crop of left fielders. An outfield of Bradley, Ellsbury and Victorino is about as close to porn as an outfield alignment could possibly get.

Additionally, this team has a remarkable lack of speed on its bench. On a normal day, the available runners would be Gomes, Carp, David Ross and Bogaerts, as well as Drake Britton. While Bogaerts isn't a terrible base runner, he doesn't actually possess blazing speed, and he would be better used as a pinch hitter anyway. While Bradley isn't exactly Jacoby Ellsbury on the basepaths - he's seven of fourteen stealing bases this season with Pawtucket - he's got good speed and a high enough baseball IQ to make smart decisions on the base paths. He's a clear upgrade over the other options currently at John Farrell's disposal. The Red Sox did make a trade for Quintin Berry recently, who could very well find himself on the expanded roster come September. If that's the case, he'd probably be the better pinch-running option. However, Bradley is definitely the better all-around player, and could stay in the game after being used on the base paths, something that can't be said for Berry. In certain situations, Bradley may still be the pinch-running option regardless of Berry's status on the roster.

Photo credit: Jim Rogash

It's Bradley's all-around abilities that make him such a valuable piece moving past this season into the offseason. Though this has changed throughout the season, it seems like the popular opinion is shifting to wanting to bring back Jacoby Ellsbury, whose contract runs out after this season. This isn't too surprising, given that he's hitting .298/.356/.421 (110 wRC+), while stealing 49 bases in 53 attempts and providing above-average defense in centerfield. It's impossible to deny his ability, and many teams wouldn't be able to just let that walk away. However, Bradley's presence gives the Red Sox the ability to not have to go overboard with the Scott Boras client on the open market.

While Bradley may not provide the same value right away, he profiles to be above-average in every area of the game, and will do so for the league minimum. After the lackluster performance he's had at the big-league level to this point - hitting .155/.258/.310 (54 wRC+) - many fans have lost some faith in him. However, he did that after getting little-to-no experience at the AAA level, a place he has since adjusted to, to the tune of a .276/.376/.478 (139 wRC+) batting-line. If the market for Ellsbury doesn't get out of control, and he'll settle for a deal for five years and around $16-17 million in average annual value, then I hope the Red Sox do re-sign him and put together that amazing defensive outfield alignment described above. However, it's possible his market gets out of control, in which case the money saved by instead plugging Bradley into center field can be spread around, a strategy that Ben Cherington employed last season and catapulted the Red Sox to the playoff race.

While many prospects and young players have come and gone this season, the buzz around the farm system has shifted from player to player. The first guy to receive the limelight, though, hasn't been a part of many discussions as of late. With the rosters expanding in just four days, Jackie Bradley should be back in everyone's minds, as his skillset is just what the team will be looking for down the stretch. Beyond that, he gives the Red Sox a leg up in the Ellsbury-negotiations, which have the potential to spiral out of control quickly, especially considering his agent.

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