FORT MYERS: Jackie Bradley Jr. was one of the first players Dave Dombrowski showed passion for when he was hired as Red Sox president of baseball operations last August.
There was the glowing analysis during his first press conference, the admission that Dombrowski once tried to trade for Bradley when he was still the general manager of the Detroit Tigers, and of course Dombrowski’s raw emotional reaction to one of Bradley’s highlight-reel plays in center field on the same day Dombrowski was introduced.
“Wow,” Dombrowski said, shaking his head back and forth after Bradley made a leaping catch into the Fenway Park triangle.
Since his first day on the job, Dombrowski has made it clear how he feels about Bradley.
And on Easter Sunday, after Bradley homered and made another impressive catch during a 5-1 Grapefruit League win over the Philadelphia Phillies, it became clearer that all the Red Sox’ eggs are in Bradley’s basket.
Sox manager John Farrell said the club is now having internal discussions about moving Bradley up in the order from the No.9 spot, where he’s spent most of the spring.
“What I think Jackie is showing is, could he hit higher in the order?” Farrell said. “Yeah. And I think there’s some healthy conversation in our staff in that regard. “Could Bradley be more suited for a top-of-the-order position? It’s certainly possible. He had the makings of a leadoff hitter early in his career. His on-base percentage his first full year in the minors in 2012 was .430.
By 2013, when Bradley posted a .507 OBP in spring training, Farrell had seen enough to give Bradley the starting job in left field on Opening Day.
Bradley started that season 3-for-31 with 12 strikeouts and six walks. That’s when Farrell’s opinion quickly changed. In two weeks, Farrell had seen enough. The Sox optioned Bradley back to the minors.
Farrell has assured the media that he’s going to have a quick trigger this year when it comes to starting the players who are performing the best, but Bradley is one guy who might deserve extra patience this time around.
Not only did he prove he could pummel major league pitching over a 25-game stretch last summer, hitting .446 with a 1.441 OPS, but Bradley is hitting .375 this spring with three home runs. The Sox moved Mookie Betts, who might be an MVP candidate and franchise cornerstone player, to right field so Bradley could take over as the center fielder.
The Sox appear to be all-in on Bradley, who is giving the ballclub every reason to feel confident in him.
While Bradley has often been under the microscope during spring training settings, competing for jobs or dealing with extra pressure from disappointing performances in past seasons, he’s handled himself like a confident veteran this spring.
“I’m just quiet, just kind of minding my own business,” he said. “I’ve always been confident. It’s just always good to see the results with the work that’s been put in.”
Farrell believes in the changes in Bradley’s persona.
“I don’t think there’s a false positivity he’s trying to generate,” Farrell said. “I think he knows himself as a player more clearly.
It’s a resume the Red Sox are banking on.
Center field is all Bradley’s. And soon, he could occupy a higher spot in the lineup.
The Red Sox are becoming believers again.