Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell made it clear Tuesday that the team likely won’t carry both Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. on its Opening Day roster. That means the Red Sox’s center field job still hangs in the balance.
The Red Sox simply don’t have the roster space to carry both players to begin the season. Shane Victorino’s health could alter those plans, but for all intents and purposes, let’s assume the Red Sox will be forced to choose between Sizemore and Bradley when the club breaks camp.
The decision most likely depends on Sizemore’s health, as this marks a big week for the 31-year-old. But let’s take a look at the tale of the tape to see how the two center field candidates stack up.
First, the facts (stats as of Tuesday morning) …
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Size: 5-foot-10, 195 pounds
Major league experience: One year
Spring stats: 16 games, .188 average (9-for-48), .250 on-base percentage, four doubles, one triple, five RBIs, two runs
2013 stats: 37 games, .189 average (18-for-95), .280 on-base percentage, three home runs, 10 RBIs, 18 runs
Accolades: No. 3 prospect in Red Sox organization (according to Baseball America)
Size: 6-foot-2, 200 pounds
Major league experience: Eight years
Spring stats: Nine games, .310 average (9-for-29), .333 on-base percentage, one double, four runs
2013 stats: Did not play
Accolades: Three-time All-Star (2006-08), two-time Gold Glove winner (2007-08), Silver Slugger winner (2008)
Now, let’s glance over each candidate’s potential contributions …
It’s nearly impossible to predict what Sizemore could do. His focus this spring has been getting his feet under him after more than two years away from baseball. There’s no denying Sizemore was an elite offensive player in his prime, though, and even a fraction of that would stack up well against Bradley’s potential 2014 contributions.
Sizemore might not be the same guy who compiled 33 homers and 90 RBIs in 2008, but he has looked comfortable at the plate this spring. His timing has been surprisingly good, and an uptick in power could come once all durability concerns are erased.
Sizemore is a two-time Gold Glove winner, but defense is Bradley’s biggest strength.
Bradley has the potential to be an elite defender right now because of his excellent route-running. Plugging him into center field immediately would be an upgrade over Jacoby Ellsbury’s defense last season. That’s saying something because Ellsbury, like Sizemore, is a former Gold Glove winner.
It’s been really difficult to gauge Sizemore in this area. The Red Sox didn’t take the training wheels off until recently, and even now they’re being cautious.
It’s unfair to assume Sizemore will return to being a 30-steal threat, but he has shown good explosiveness out of the box. Stolen bases could come in time.
Bradley doesn’t have great speed, but he has good instincts. Those instincts should enable him to take extra bases and 15- to 20-steal potential seems realistic.
The 2008 version of Sizemore runs away with this category — no pun intended. For now, let’s assume Sizemore has lost a little something, meaning he’s closer to Bradley’s level, although probably still a small step above it.
This is a classic case of deciding between a young up-and-comer and a grizzled veteran, only this installment features a veteran who is seeking to overcome seven surgeries.
Bradley struggled last season but has shown tremendous poise in handling the adversity. That bodes well for his future, even if his career doesn’t really begin to take off until 2015.
Sizemore has an impressive resume, and there’s no denying how dynamic he once was. The determining factor, again, will be if Sizemore is ready health-wise to produce at a high level on an everyday basis.
Don’t be surprised if both players make meaningful contributions this season. The Red Sox suddenly have enviable center field depth, which wasn’t the case until Sizemore showed up and started turning heads.
If he’s healthy, Sizemore should be the starting center fielder while Bradley continues to develop at Triple-A. Why not ride the wave and see if Sizemore can continue to exceed expectations?