Bradley takes left turn trying to make Red Sox
Outfielder's play this spring has him in the mix for Opening Day roster spot
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jackie Bradley Jr. -- the story of camp for the Red Sox -- had been roaming center field for the first six innings of Friday afternoon's game against the Blue Jays. But prior to the bottom of the seventh, one of the coaches told him to move to left.
It was an interesting development, considering Bradley had not played that spot of the outfield since 2005, his freshman year of high school.
And a highly intriguing one as well, because Bradley's chances of cracking the Opening Day roster could increase greatly if the team feels comfortable putting him in all three outfield spots.
Much like everything else Bradley has been asked to do this spring, he handled the assignment perfectly. There was a nice running catch against Adam Lind in the seventh. Then a terrific catch of a foul ball in front of the stands in the eighth. And later in that inning, Bradley dug a ball out of the corner and made a perfect relay throw to help set up an out at the plate.
"Definitely, when you are new to something, the ball is going to find you," Bradley said. "I was just trying to do my best center field impersonation out there in left field. I pretty much know, balls hit are going to go towards the lines. I felt pretty comfortable."
With 10 days to go before Opening Day, Bradley's status remains the hottest topic of Spring Training for the Red Sox.
Nothing has been decided yet, as manager John Farrell and the front office continue to debate what's best for the Red Sox and Bradley.
What would it mean to Bradley to make the team?
"Special," Bradley said. "Everyone works hard to try to get there. It would be something I've always worked for. Anything's possible."
It sure didn't seem possible at the start of camp. From left to right, Jonny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino were on board as the primary outfielders, and that hasn't changed. But the new wrinkle is the fact that two left-handed batters -- David Ortiz and Stephen Drew -- are all but certain to open the season on the disabled list.
Bradley happens to be a left-handed batter. And if the club felt comfortable enough playing him in left, perhaps Gomes could fill a lot of the DH-time while Ortiz recovers. Bradley could also play the other two outfield spots at times, giving Ellsbury or Victorino a chance to rest their legs, either at DH or by getting a day off.
Two days ago, Farrell said he hadn't thought much about an outfield trio of Bradley, Ellsbury and Victorino. Farrell also said he didn't envision Bradley as a left fielder.
So what happened between Wednesday and the start of the seventh inning on Friday?
"We reserve the right to change our mind and our plans," Farrell said. "That's where he was at today."
And Bradley certainly showed he was up to the challenge.
"First hitter he's in left field with, he gets challenged pretty good and makes a heck of a play," Farrell said. "The relay throw, you know, he hits the cutoff man. He goes against the wall to catch another foul ball out. He's a very good defensive outfielder, regardless of the position."
The offense isn't too shabby either. Bradley is hitting .429 (21-for-49) in Grapefruit League action with four doubles, a homer and five RBIs.
Should the impromptu appearance in left field be a reason for someone to read between the lines regarding Bradley's chances of making the team?
"I wouldn't read anything into it other than getting him some exposure in left field," Farrell said. "And in the event if certain things fall a certain way, we want to be sure to cover all our bases."
The one thing Bradley made clear is that no feathers of his will be ruffled if he is asked to play the corners instead of center.
"Whatever position in the outfield they want me to play, I'm willing to do," Bradley said. "I'm an outfielder, but I just played in center mostly. I'm up for any different position. I just want to play baseball."
And it goes without saying that playing for the Red Sox at the start of the season would be the best-case scenario for the 22-year-old who was taken with the 40th overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
But Bradley knows the situation could go either way, and is staying prepared for the less desirable outcome.
"I wouldn't be disappointed," Bradley said. "I came into Spring Training -- not even a thought to make the team. I didn't really set any expectations coming in. I just want to come in and play hard and show that I've improved from last year. Hopefully I'm doing that."