The Boston Red Sox today sent two players not named Jackie Bradley, Jr. to the minor leagues today as they whittle their roster down toward the 25 who will open the season with the club on Monday. So it appears that the debate over whether to allow the young phenom to make the jump from Double-A will continue for at least another day. For me, however, there is no debate: he's earned a place on the team and should be given the uniform number 19 he said he would request should that happen.
Now, I know all about the risks associated with rushing a young talent to the majors – remember Craig Hansen? I first wrote of the potential to ruin him back in May of 2006. But Bradley is an outfielder, not a pitcher, and the transition can be a whole lot smoother for him than it was for Hansen, for whom – as it would be for any moundsman – the margin for error was no bigger than the width of the strike zone.
I'm not saying that Bradley is going to go right from Fort Myers to Cooperstown, but he looks so comfortable and exhibits such natural talent that he’s one on whom to take a chance if ever there were someone on whom you'd take such a chance.
From where I sit, this move will work if two things happen:
1) Bradley must play. He won't learn how to thrive in the major leagues if he is relegated to the bench, and he must be written into the lineup pretty much every day in order to accelerate his trip up the learning curve. Where would he play given the presence of presumed starters Johnny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shane Victorino? Left field, center field, and right field, depending upon who may be hurt (Ellsbury), tired (Victorino), or DHing (Gomes, at least until David Ortiz returns).
2) The Red Sox must be patient with him. It would not be at all surprising if Bradley were to open the season on fire and then nosedive for eight weeks as pitchers adjusted to him. But if he is as real a deal as he appears to be, then he will make adjustments in return, and end up having a fairly respectable season. (See Pedroia, Dustin.)
Former Sox hurler Curt Schilling wasn't wrong when he told ESPN that spring training “means nothing when you try to correlate it to having a great season.” But just as this is no reason to promote someone, neither is it a reason to hold someone back. If the boy can play, I say let him play. He'll let you know soon enough whether or not it's too soon – and if it is, the trick then will be to return him to the minors for more quickly than not so he doesn't get down on himself and can return ready to have an impact.