The Red Sox are going to have to make a tough roster decision this upcoming week. David Ortiz is still suffering from a sore Achilles heel, likely beginning the season on the Disabled List. As a result, Jonny Gomes may be filling in as the designated hitter for the beginning of April, leaving a corner outfield spot open.
Jackie Bradley Jr. has been enjoying an incredible spring training, hitting .423 with a 1.123 OPS. Before this year, he was ranked as one of the top 50 prospects in baseball and competing with Xander Bogaerts for the title of Boston's best prospect. With Jacoby Ellsbury's looming free agency paired with Bradley's spring domination, should the Red Sox start the season with him on their 25-man roster?
Joe Reilly at the Fire Brand of the American League has made a case for Bradley to work his way into the Opening Day lineup. He chronicles the discussions that were going on leading up to Spring Training and throughout. Bradley ran through High-A and Double-A but many agreed that he needed to spend some time in Triple-A before a possible September call-up. If JBJ was doing well in the minors again this year, Boston would seemingly have a viable replacement for Ellsbury, if he were to leave through free agency. Then, he started crushing some decent pitching in spring training (OppQual of 8.3) and many started to argue for his major league debut come this April. Reilly believes that Bradley will provide lineup flexibility and be a viable weapon off of the bench.
1. He allows for more lineup flexibility without Ortiz and Stephen Drew in the lineup.
Against RHP you can hit Bradley 2nd behind Ellsbury and in front of Pedroia, Napoli, and Middlebrooks. Victorino is the ideal 2 hitter, but his splits against RHP don't lie; they speak for themselves and they are not good (.698 OPS career).
2. He will be a weapon off the bench when he is not in the lineup.
I assume if Bradley is on the roster against the Yankees a few Monday's from now, he won't be in the lineup against LHP CC Sabathia. However, he can pinch run (24 SB in 2012), could be a defensive replacement for Gomes, and can pinch hit for Victorino when the Yankees bring in a RHP.
Shane Victorino is the ideal hitter for second in the batting order. He gets on base (career .341 OBP), hits for some decent power (.128 ISO) and is a great baserunner (82% stolen base percentage within 244 attempts). Granted, he did struggle brutally against right-handers last year, posting a career low .279 wOBA and a mediocre 73 wRC+. For his career, Victorino does have a mild platoon split, but that's only because he mashes lefties (career .381 wOBA/133 wRC+ against LHPs vs .321 wOBA/94 wRC+ against RHPs). Then again, John Farrell has already suggested that he'll be bouncing around the lineup against right-handers and most likely not batting second. Even if Bradley were to make the major league roster, he should not be dropping Victorino down in the lineup.
If Jackie Bradley Jr. were to be promoted, he's going to have to play nearly every day. The Red Sox would be foolish to promote a top prospect from Double-A just to have him ride the pine when there are everyday at-bats that could be had in Triple-A. MLB Depth Charts lists Gomes as the primary designated hitter while Ortiz is out. With a corner outfield spot open, Boston has some in-house candidates with Mike Carp and Daniel Nava in addition to Bradley.
Actually, they may have a great platoon opportunity with Carp and Nava. His 2012 wrecked by injuries, Carp was only able to play in 59 games. Looking at his career splits, he hits LHPs very well (.351 wOBA/126 wRC+) and RHPs decently (.319 wOBA/104 wRC+). Meanwhile, Nava struggles against lefties (.283 wOBA/70 wRC+) but excels against right-handers (.343 wOBA/110 wRC+). If, for some reason, Victorino were to be pinch hit for against a RHP, it should be with Nava (if he's not already in the lineup), not Bradley.
The Boston Red Sox lost 93 games last year, their highest amount since 1965. After their blockbuster trade with the Dodgers that netted them exciting pitchers in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, coupled with a developing but promising young core with top prospects Bogaerts and Bradley, Boston has built an extremely strong farm system. They will contend in time but likely not in 2013. With Ortiz probably missing the start of the season and Gomes shifting to primary DH, the Red Sox could reasonably platoon Carp and Nava in the outfield for some decent offense. Not only that, but a torrid spring training doesn't necessarily predict major league success. The Red Sox should not start Jackie Bradley Jr.'s arbitration clock early by skipping some valuable Triple-A seasoning and penciling him in the Opening Day lineup.