The Boston Red Sox must decide if 2013 is going to be a “bridge” year or a year that they will contend for the AL East title. After three straight years without making the playoffs, the Red Sox owe it to their fans to put the best possible product on the field for opening day. In order to do this, Jackie Bradley Jr. must be starting in left field.
Bradley is one of the top prospects in the Red Sox farm system. He has been a productive hitter and fielder at every level. In two seasons at the University of South Carolina he hit over .350 with good power (24 home runs in 130 games). He led the Gamecocks to the College World Series Championship in 2010 and was named the Series MVP. The Red Sox took him with the 40th overall pick in the supplemental first round of the 2011 MLB draft. He excelled at both Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland last year, hitting .315 with nine home runs, 63 RBI and 24 stolen bases en route to being named Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year. On Sunday he had four RBI off of former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee in two at-bats. He will be 23 in April and does not need the Triple-A experience that other players can benefit from. Clearly Bradley is MLB ready.
So why is it even debatable that Bradley should start opening day? Who is the player that stands in his way? That would be Jonny Gomes. Yes, that’s right, Jonny Gomes. In eight seasons, Gomes has hit for just a .244 average. He has one season with more than 60 RBI and has never hit more than 21 home runs. He has terrible speed and he can’t play defense. Oh yea, and he gets hurt a lot.
If the Red Sox don’t have Bradley in their opening day lineup then they’re simply not serious about winning. Bradley is not only superior to Gomes in almost every aspect of the game, he is also the future of the team. The Red Sox need to know if he is an adequate replacement should Jacoby Ellsbury leave during free agency after the season. The AL East will be very competitive this year, but all of their opponents have major weaknesses. The Baltimore Orioles will likely decline from last year’s overachieving team. R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball won’t be as effective for the Toronto Blue Jays against AL bats. The Tampa Bay Rays lost all-stars B.J. Upton and James Shields, and the New York Yankees are old, injured and vulnerable. The Red Sox have to take advantage of this by putting the best possible team they can on the field.