FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jackie Bradley Jr. is approaching this season with total confidence.
Bradley vowed before Tuesday’s Boston Red Sox spring training workout at JetBlue Park that last season’s struggles are behind him. The 23-year-old outfielder, who won two national championships at the University of South Carolina, said he’s ready to take the next step in his baseball career.
“I’m a pretty mentally tough guy. I know I can take my bumps and my bruises. I’ll be fine. I promise you,” Bradley said. “I’m going to get things back on track. I’ve been able to hit at every single level, so I’m ready to prove that I can do it at this level as well.”
Bradley, who was drafted by the Red Sox with the 40th overall selection in 2011, turned heads last spring, ultimately leading to him landing on Boston’s Opening Day roster. Bradley struggled in his first big league stint, though, hitting .097 (3-for-31) in 12 April games before being sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket.
“That you are going to struggle,” Bradley said Tuesday when asked what he learned from the experience. “But that’s good. That way I’ll be able to overcome it and gain some confidence from it. I feel like going through those battles and those fights are going to only make me better.”
Bradley had four different major league call-ups last season, and while his final stat line — .189 average (18-for-95), .280 on-base percentage and 31 strikeouts in 37 games — was unimpressive, the highly regarded prospect made adjustments every step of the way. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell said several times throughout the offseason that they’d be comfortable penciling Bradley into the 2014 lineup, particularly because of his defensive prowess in center field.
“I always used to watch the top 10 plays and try to emulate those guys,” Bradley said. “Instead of doing that one play, I always wanted to make it back-to-back, so that was incorporated into my shagging abilities before games to prepare.”
Bradley will have big shoes to fill this season, as Jacoby Ellsbury became one of baseball’s premier center fielders during his seven seasons in Boston. Bradley said he isn’t focused on replacing Ellsbury, though. Instead, Bradley wants to continue to pick brains, make adjustments and work hard for as long as he’s playing baseball.
“You have to be a student of the game. If you don’t, you’re not going to learn. And when you do, you’re going to figure out, ‘Why didn’t I learn this a lot sooner?’ Well, it’s because you weren’t listening,” Bradley said. “I really pride myself on listening and trying to pick up on the games a lot faster. That way it’ll come to me a lot more easier.”
So, what about the pressure?
“It’s kind of hard to be under the radar when you’re in Boston. And I just won a national championship,” Bradley said. “But I guess it’s all relative speaking. … Best believe I’m being watched, I know I am. That’s a good thing, though. I’m ready to embrace it and move on from it.”
Moving on can be difficult. But Bradley sounds ready.