Red Sox’s Faith In Jackie Bradley Jr. Understandable Despite Shaky 2014

The jury is out on Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley’s stock is difficult to gauge following a season in which he struggled offensively yet was named an American League Gold Glove finalist. The Red Sox still have high hopes for the 24-year-old, though, which is completely understandable even as Boston sorts out its crowded outfield situation.

Bradley hit .198 with one homer, 30 RBIs and a .531 OPS in 127 games last season, and he has struck out 152 times in 530 career plate appearances in the majors. It’s shocking for a player with an impressive offensive track record in the minors — he owns a .394 on-base percentage in 1,058 minor league plate appearances — and is certainly grounds for skepticism. Bradley’s ability to hit, after all, will be the difference between whether he evolves into an everyday player or a fourth outfielder.

But now isn’t the time for Boston to give up on Bradley entirely, though it might seem sensible, given the Red Sox’s surplus of outfielders. Bradley will — and should — start next season at Triple-A Pawtucket, and weighing his overall potential versus his probable trade value suggests the Red Sox are better off holding on to the young outfielder in the hopes he eventually puts it all together with some additional minor league seasoning. Such a development not only would give the Red Sox another viable outfield option. It also would enhance the potential return in a deal for Bradley.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington gave Bradley a vote of confidence earlier this week at the GM meetings in Phoenix, insisting that Boston and others still view the former first-round draft pick as an eventual starting center fielder, despite his obvious offensive flaws. Perhaps it was GM speak — let’s hype our own player before looking to deal him — but the more likely scenario is that the Red Sox are maintaining some level of faith.

And why shouldn’t they? Bradley doesn’t need to develop into an offensive juggernaut to be a decent major league outfielder. In fact, he’d hold quite a bit of value on a contending team — something the Red Sox intend to be in 2015 — based solely on his defense, which is elite by nearly every metric.

Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava all are better major league outfield options to begin 2015, but Bradley shouldn’t be written off as someone incapable of reaching his potential, whether it be in Boston or elsewhere. Bradley, a player who really met failure for the first time in 2013 and 2014, might even be able to use his big league woes as fuel.

The reality is the Red Sox could look to deal from their surplus of outfielders. It’s a logical move for a team that needs pitching. No one would blame Boston for leveraging a strength. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the biggest strengths often turn into weaknesses when one views a crowded situation as a curse rather than a blessing. Knee-jerk moves must be avoided.

Bradley hasn’t lived up to the hype, and perhaps he never will. There’s still something to be said for keeping the beleaguered outfielder.

Let’s have the jury sweat it out a little longer.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

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