Sox prospect Bradley full of promise

Shagging fly balls in the outfield is often the most desultory aspect of batting practice, a task typically assigned to indifferent pitchers. During spring training last year, Bobby Valentine excused Red Sox pitchers even of that exercise, opting for a pickup afterward.

Then there is the approach taken by Red Sox outfield prospect Jackie Bradley Jr., whose gung-ho style in the field during BP was called "power shagging" by Sox director of player development Ben Crockett at the team's rookie development camp this week.

"Power shagging is something I do a lot of during pregame," Bradley said when asked about the practice. "I'm in center field, playing every ball like it's a game situation. The pitchers are usually out there. They're clearing the way for me. They know to stay out of my way; they're going to the right-field corner.

"Even some of my outfield teammates, like Bryce Brentz, are joking around with me all the time during BP. Bryce says, 'I stay in one little spot and wave at Jackie as he runs by me.'

"I like to get reads. I want to know the field, know the weather, certain obstacles maybe. Get the feel for how my legs are that day, what I'm capable of. That's how I prepare."

Bradley was a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2011 -- drafted 40th overall as a pick the Red Sox received as compensation for losing third baseman Adrian Beltre to the Texas Rangers in free agency.

Even though he has just one full season of professional baseball and a total of 615 plate appearances, the last two months of which came at Double-A Portland, Bradley already has been mentioned as a potential successor to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field should Ellsbury leave via free agency.

"A lot of people have tried to make that connection," Bradley said when asked if he thought his future could be tied to Ellsbury's, "but I don't control anything they want to do. All I can do is give my all, play the game the right way, just keep getting better.

"There's always going to be something you're chasing after, whether in this game or in life. I want to be the best. I want to chase after being the best. Hopefully I'll be able to keep getting better, start making adjustments, and whenever it's my time to make my debut or come to the big leagues, I will make sure that I'm ready. I know adversity is going to happen. I'm ready to take it on."

Without some setbacks in college at the University of South Carolina, Bradley would not have been available to the Red Sox when they made their fourth pick of the first round (including sandwich picks), having chosen pitchers Matt Barnes and Henry Owens and catcher Blake Swihart ahead of him.

The outstanding player of the 2010 College World Series as a sophomore, Bradley got off to a slow start as a junior and then sustained a displaced tendon in his left wrist that sidelined him in the weeks before the draft. It was his third injury in college; he had a rib removed near his collarbone as a freshman and broke a bone in his right hand as a sophomore.

But Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye had sufficient confidence in the judgment of his evaluators, especially scout Quincy Boyd, who had been tracking Bradley since high school in Richmond, Va., that they were not put off by the injury. Bradley returned to the Gamecocks after being drafted and was in center field to catch the final out of South Carolina's second straight College World Series title, a run in which the Gamecocks won a record 16 straight NCAA tournament games.

After playing a handful of games in the minors in 2011, Bradley has progressed rapidly through the Sox system, skipping Class A Greenville to open the 2012 season in Salem before being promoted to the Sea Dogs. He put up a combined line of .315/.430/.482/.911 while stealing 24 bases and drawing 87 walks in 575 plate appearances. All this while playing exemplary outfield defense.

And here's a novel thought: a Sox center fielder with a strong arm. In his first season at South Carolina, Bradley stood at home plate at Sarge Frye Field and threw a ball over the center-field fence. In high school, at the Perfect Game Showcase, the velocity of his throws was measured over 100 mph.

"I love to chuck it too," Bradley said. "I have a pretty decent-sized arm. I take pride in my throwing."

It is a point of pride as well that he finish his college degree. Bradley returned to South Carolina in the fall and completed a full semester of work, even though he had to catch up after missing the first two weeks. He has two semesters left before he finishes his degree in retail management.

"A little bit of everything," Bradley said when asked why he decided to return to school. "Me, I wanted to finish. The percentage of major league players who actually complete their full degree is very low. I don't want to be part of that statistic. I want to finish. For my parents, it's really big, and I don't want to start something and not finish it."

Bradley is a big part of that next wave of Sox prospects identified by GM Ben Cherington as the foundation of the next great Red Sox team. There were 11 prospects at the rookie development camp, and everywhere you looked there was talent.

Xander Bogaerts, the shortstop widely considered Boston's top prospect and a potential All-Star.

Pitchers like Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, acquired from the Dodgers; knuckleballer Steven Wright, who could be a late bloomer at 28; and homegrown lefty Drake Britton.

Outfielders Brentz and Boston native Alex Hassan, defensive catching whiz Christian Vazquez and second baseman Brock Holt, who came from Pittsburgh in the Joel Hanrahan trade.

Not all will pan out as big leaguers; perhaps the majority won't.

If Bradley makes it, he has the engaging personality that promises to make him a fan favorite in Boston. He embraces the challenge.

"I feel like anything dealing with this sport is a challenge," he said. "This group of guys is a great group of guys that is ready to get that opportunity. You never really know what someone is capable of doing until that opportunity is given to them.

"I like to say we all run our own race. You can't be going off into different races, somebody else's lane. You have to stay in your lane, stay focused, work hard, and everything will work out the way it's supposed to work out."