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Red Sox prospects daily: Jackie Bradley and Trey Ball look to rebound

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The 2014 season was rough for two highly touted prospects, but they are still young and talented enough to recover.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed Opening Day's initial installment, this is our new setup for prospect coverage at Over the Monster. The general idea is to cover one prospect at each level daily -- four prospects per day until short-season ball makes it five -- but on occasion there might be changes to that plan. You can thank Pawtucket for that, as the Triple-A level has about twice as many viable prospects as every other one at the moment, so on occasion, Portland's comparatively lighter roster might get a day off in order to feature everyone worth talking about from Rhode Island.

This will drop five days per week as a regular feature, and as of this writing there are over 40 prospects we plan on covering regularly before the June draft expands things further. Some of the names could change as surprises break out or the bubble players burst, but the goal is to discuss everyone worth discussing, from future stars to potential big-league bullpen or bench pieces.

Triple-A Pawtucket: Jackie Bradley Jr., CF

Bradley was a disaster at the plate in the majors in 2014, but he's still just 25, and with a history of success in the minors. Plus, his glove alone is worth his bat if he can be even below-average offensively. While it's hard to imagine him succeeding after his dismal summer, it's a definite, realistic possibility that he can be average or better once he figures out how to keep pitchers from striking him out constantly.

The Red Sox don't need Bradley to thrive for the sake of their 2015, not unless suddenly everyone capable of manning center field goes down with an injury -- and that's a long list, with Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and even emergency Shane Victorino around -- but they do need him to regain his value. If he's not going to be in future Red Sox outfields, he could still man center elsewhere, maybe even for a contending team. Someone like the Padres could end up needing Bradley's glove when it turns out their awful defensive alignment in the outfield just isn't cutting it, and if Bradley is mashing at the time, it can only improve the return.

JBJ
Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If the Sox can't find a taker for Bradley, there is still a future for him as a (maybe overqualified) fourth outfielder. When the roster has future first baseman and designated hitter Allen Craig along with a couple of outfielders known to get injured, having Bradley around as insurance is a positive, both now and later.

Double-A Portland: Reed Gragnani, 2B

Reed Gragnani is definitely in the deep cuts portion of our prospect coverage, but you're going to hear about a lot of Portland B-sides this year. Gragnani was Boston's 21st-round selection in the 2013 draft, and he was solid as far as debuts go splitting the rest of the season between short-season Lowell and Low-A Greenville. He had a strong 2014 with the Salem Red Sox, though, enough to make him someone to watch on a thin Portland roster.

Gragnani batted .300/.409/.406 in a league where the average line was .255/.327/.379, so even though his power isn't anything special, he was making far more quality contact and getting on base more often than your average Carolina League player. Part of that was probably his .346 batting average on balls in play, so let's not get too excited, but we'll see how he does now that he's facing the more advanced pitching of the Eastern League. Who knows, maybe the sheer volume of balls he puts into play -- Gragnani struck out just 11 percent of the time in 2014 -- is to his benefit.

High-A Salem: Trey Ball, LHP

Trey Ball's 2014 can be neatly broken up into two different halves -- one horrific, one productive -- but it still doesn't tell the whole story for the seventh-overall pick from the 2013 draft. Yes, he managed a sub-three ERA in his final 10 starts, but he still wasn't missing enough bats, and there wasn't nearly enough separation between his strikeout and walk totals. The talent is still there for Ball, and he's not even turning 21 until June 27, but it's fair if you want to be a little skeptical of him until he produces something positive on the mound.

Ball has a higher ceiling than most of the starters in the system, but right now he's laying on his floor staring up at a future he can't quite reach. That might seem a little harsh, and we don't mean it to, especially since Low-A ball isn't necessarily about establishing yourself as a dominating presence. For a kid who still isn't all that far removed from high school, Low-A can be more about getting used to the rhythm and work that goes into a full season of pro ball. Ball made 22 starts and pitched 100 innings, and now he gets a promotion to a tougher level that will expect more results from him. With the day-to-day part of being a pro learned, though, now is the time to focus on growing more on the mound.

Low-A Greenville: Nick Longhi, 1B

Longhi was drafted in 2013 in the 30th round, but don't let that late draft placement fool you. The outfielder/first baseman had signability concerns that caused every other team to pass over him until late in the draft, and the Red Sox paid him a $440,000 signing bonus to make sure he'd choose baseball over college. That's money for a pick from the first five rounds, which also happens to be where Baseball America believed his talent would have had him picked if not for those concerns about signing him.

Longhi didn't play all that much in 2014 thanks to an injury, but in his 30 games with short-season Lowell, the 18-year-old batted .330/.388/.440 in a league where the average player was 21 and managed .251/.318/.357. He has power potential, but the concern as of now is whether his raw pop will translate to game situations. If he can keep his swing short and go after the right pitches, it shouldn't be a problem.