It was the M.O. for Terry Francona in his eight seasons as manager of the Boston Red Sox to keep the struggling young players in the lineup every day and allow him to work out of it at the major league level. The idea was that there will be many more slumps to come in their respective major league careers.
John Farrell has taken a note from his predecessor at the helm, applying it to rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2014. Bogaerts remains mired in the worst slump of his young career with just 12 hits in his last 107 at bats, hitting .112 with a .300 OPS (yes, OPS) going back to June 4.
Meanwhile, Bradley — who was in a bad slump of his own for much of the season — appears to have turned a corner over the past few weeks at the plate. His batting average dipped as low as .193 before it got back above the Mendoza Line and is holding stagnant between .200 and .210. The hits are coming more often, and the major league-like at bats are occurring more consistently.
Over his last 14 games, Bradley is hitting .304 (14-for-46) with a .751 OPS, picking up at least one hit in 11 of those contests. Four of the 14 hits have gone for extra bases and he’s crossed home plate six times. He looks more comfortable in the batters box. He’s grinding out at bats and is putting the ball in places it can drop in for a hit.
Going back to June 3, he’s hit .262 with five extra-base hits, four RBIs and 12 runs scored. No, that’s nothing to write home about, but it’s what the norm for Bradley will likely be. A guy who will hit between .260 and .275 while providing a solid bat in the bottom half of the order while playing Gold Glove caliber defense is worthwhile.
He’s not a player you build your team around, but he’s a very important piece of a ball club.
Great teams begin in the middle — catcher, second base/shortstop, center field. If Bradley has shown us anything in 2014, it’s how good of a defensive center fielder he is. Unlike predecessor Jacoby Ellsbury — whose game was predicated on speed and athleticism in center — Bradley always positions himself well, getting great jumps on balls. While Ellsbury had an arm that running games exploited on a regular basis, Bradley is a plus thrower, as evidenced by his league-leading 10 assists.
Great lineups are made by the bottom half of the order. While having a strong middle of the lineup is crucial, having solid bats 6-9 in the order is just as critical. A strong bottom half that extended the lineup is part of what had the Sox atop the league offensively in 2013. Likewise, it’s that weak bottom half that has the Sox at the bottom of the league offensively in 2014. Bradley is capable of providing such a bat at the bottom half of the lineup.
Expect Bradley to continue to show the type of player he is as the second half goes on and show why slumping young players should stay in the lineup and work through slumps. As for the send-Bogaerts-to-the-minors camp, take notes.