Spring stats and Jackie Bradley Jr.

One of the benefits of Spring Training is that you get a first hand look at some of the promising youngsters on your respective team. Baseball America ranked the Boston Red Sox as the sixth most talent rich organisation in terms of prospects, so there were obviously going to be a few players to watch as Spring progressed.

However, what seems to be largely forgotten is that spring training statistics are meaningless.  Organisations already know how good their prospects are, they’ve already watched them progress and improve while in the minor leagues, or they have impressions from high school or college ball which will need to be substantiated with more playing time in the minor league set-up.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has been putting up some fan (and media) frenzying spring numbers (currently hitting .457 in his 35 at bats) which unsurprisingly (and wrongly) led to John Farrell being asked if Bradley could make the Major League team out of camp.

It’s probably appropriate at this point to say that most of the speculation around players ‘making the team’ is media generated. Creating a rookie buzz is a simple way to beat the spring training news drought but reporting that good organisations really already know who’s going to feature on the opening day roster doesn’t get people clicking your twitter links.  Bradley himself said to MLB.com that the club hasn’t talked to him about the possibility of making the team out of camp, and that he’s heard about it instead from social media and reporters.  Go figure.

Bradley is Boston’s number 2 prospect and if everything works out, the chances are he’s going to be a very good major league player. Defensively he’s got the speed and the plus arm needed to play center field, attributes that compare well to incumbent (and prospective free agent) Jacoby Ellsbury. Offensively, while he’s hit well in Spring, he hit a less impressive .271 in 229 at bats for AA Portland last year. While he did hit 6 home runs in that spell, the Red Sox know he needs more time in the minors and they said as much before injuries to Ortiz and Drew opened up some room for speculation.

It’s great to see rookies (and indeed any player) enjoying spring training and having good results, but take a look at the overall picture. Look over their minor league numbers, listen to what scouts are saying and consume all other available information before you take 40 at bats as the de facto indicator of future performance. If a player hits .270 in AA and .400 in spring, it doesn’t mean he’s destined to hit somewhere in between.

Despite John Farrell placating the press with answers like “That’s a helluva question” when asked if Bradley will start 2013 in the Majors I’d be very surprised if he did. I don’t believe he’s ready. We have good reason to believe he’ll become a fine player but to have him go through his development under the scrutiny that the 2013 Red Sox are sure to face seems reckless.  And that’s even before factoring in service time and the fact that his agent is Scott ‘free agency’  Boras. Do you really want to have Bradley become a free agent before the 2019 season, when he’ll likely be at his peak?

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