Jackie Bradley, Jr. may very well be the best player to come through Waterfront Park this season. Rated as Boston’s tenth-best prospect entering the season by Baseball America, the friendly 22-year-old is now on his fourth level in less than one calendar year.
He was promoted to Double-A Portland just prior to the start of their series against Trenton, and was kind enough to spend about ten minutes with me outside of the visiting clubhouse on Friday.
Mike Ashmore: So, this has to be a pretty exciting time for you, just getting called up to Double-A…how did you find out about it? Were you expecting to move up this soon?
Jackie Bradley, Jr.: “I found out Sunday. I think right before our last game and the All-Star Game in High-A. I didn’t really know what to expect, it’s my first full year in the system. I’m just going about my business the right way. I got the phone call, and I was pretty happy.”
Ashmore: Are you moving faster than you thought you would, though? Four levels in less than a year is pretty impressive…
Bradley, Jr.: “I only played ten games at all last year, I think. I was a late sign…”
Ashmore: Well that makes it all the more impressive, really…
Bradley, Jr.: “I guess so (laughs). I didn’t have any expectations, I just wanted to have a full season being healthy. That was pretty much my expectation, just to be as healthy as possible and everything else would take care of itself.”
Ashmore: Well, I guess you can’t do an interview with you without talking about the College World Series. I’m sure you’ve been asked about it a lot, but I’ll start in 2010…how would you describe that run that both you and your team had?
Bradley, Jr.: “It was a run of adversity. We just battled our tails off. That was pretty much our word for 2010 and 2011, we started off the first game losing, and it was like a six-hour game because it was a rain delay. So we had come back the very next day and keep playing, and we upset the number one team and went on a streak where we won six games in a row to win the College World Series. The following year, 2011, we didn’t lose a single game. The streak kept going until we finally ended this year against Arkansas. It’s just a testament to the team that Arkansas has and the conference, we had to play them so much. It was fun playing in that type of environment. But they’re continuing the run, they beat Arkansas last night, and tomorrow they’ve got to play again to get to the championship game…
Ashmore: Well, that addressed the team aspect…but now we’ve got to talk about you. Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series in 2010…did you ever dream that could happen?
Bradley, Jr.: “I never dreamed it. Never. You want to play at the highest level you can, and playing in the SEC really took it to the top notch for me. To be able to make it to college, and the most idolized thing there is the College World Series, so to become the MVP, it was just icing on the cake. Like I said, it was a roller coaster that never came down. I had a lot of fun with it, and I’m glad I got to enjoy it with all my family.”
Ashmore: Did you ever think you and your team would be able to win it again like you guys did?
Bradley, Jr.: “Everything’s possible, that’s what I always thought. To be able to get back…I had an injury in 2011. My left wrist, I had a slight tear in a ligament, my TFCC; Triangluar Fibrose Cartilage Complex…
Ashmore: I’d be willing to bet you didn’t know that acronym before that happened to you…
Bradley, Jr.: “I did not (laughs), but I had heard about it after happened from certain guys who had it before or something similar. But I was able to recover, and I was on my way.”
Ashmore: In doing some research for the interview, I was looking at the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and it reads “he became too homer-conscious as college baseball toned down its metal bats last spring.” Have you heard that? Does that mean anything to you?
Bradley, Jr.: “Too homer conscious? Well, I guess that’s the past and I’m not really letting the past affect me now. I’m just continuing to play my game and just be myself. That’s all I can be.”
Ashmore: 2011 must have been a hell of a year for you. You win the College World Series, and then you get drafted in the first round by Boston. Take me back to that day and what you remember about it…
Bradley, Jr.: “I remember just family members just coming down, they wanted to hang out with me. We just kind of went out to eat at Ale House in South Carolina, it was during the Regionals. I was hurt from the middle of the season until right before the College World Series…but we were just enjoying each other and having fun. We were watching it on TV, and the 40th pick, Boston picks me up. I ended up getting a phone call, and it was just a lot of fun just hanging out with family.”
Ashmore: What’s it like getting that amount of money thrown at you at that age? Not too many people get to experience that…
Bradley, Jr.: “Well, you want to be in that situation where you have to make a choice whether to go back to college or continue and play pro ball. Definitely satisfying for me to come and play pro, but you don’t really make your money in the minor leagues, you make it in the major leagues. I feel like it was time for me to take my game to the next level and start the climb.”
Ashmore: Did any of the guys ever give you crap about the ($1.1 M) bonus?
Bradley, Jr.: “No one gives me crap about the bonus, because in the end we’re all here and we’re all trying to get to the same destination. I’ve still got to start off in the minor leagues like they do, and even at the same levels like they do. We’re always trying to work to get to the top. No matter how much money you get, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make it to the major leagues. It’s all about working hard, and it’s a continous process.”
Ashmore: Something else I’ve heard about you is that you’ve got excellent instincts in the outfield. I know it’s an instinctual thing, but obviously there’s a ton of work that goes into it as well…have you always been able to play the outfield as well as you do?
Bradley, Jr.: “Yeah, actually I have. But it hasn’t come easy. I just try to make it seem like it’s easy because I like to have fun with it. I’ve actually worked on it…during BP, you can watch me today during BP, I’m giving it 100 percent like it was a game because I want to see what I can get and what I can’t get and where would I be positioned in a certain spot and testing out the wall and the grass; how fast the grass is moving and figuring out the warning track. I’m looking at all those things during BP. That’s what’s pretty much got me to this point right here, is being able to do it at 100 percent even when it’s not game time.”
Ashmore: Is the defense the best tool for you, do you think?
Bradley, Jr.: “That’s what people say. But I like to think I’m an all-around type of guy. I feel like I can do it all, and I like to have fun doing it all. I’m an aggressive player, but I can also be patient as well. I like to mix it up, keep everything off-balance.”
Ashmore: So, as I mentioned, this is the fourth stop for you in less than a year…how difficult is it to have had to adapt and adjust to those different spots?
Bradley, Jr.: “Not too difficult. You’re still playing baseball and having fun. The main thing is just adapting to the new surroundings. Different players have different tendencies. Working with other guys as well. We’re all here to develop and also win though. Winning helps the developing process because when you’re winning, everything is fun. When you’re losing, even though you’re trying to work on developing yourself, winning has to be accustomed to it too. That’s how you develop, is by winning and doing the small things to win.”
Ashmore: So does having experienced what you did at the college level help you in that sense?
Bradley, Jr.: “Winning is definitely important to me. I’ve pretty much won at every level that I’ve been to, and I want to continue that, just bringing that winning nature to whatever team I’m with.
Ashmore: Finish this: My 2012 season is successful if __________
Bradley, Jr.: “If I stay healthy the whole season.”
Ashmore: Do you set any sort of statistical goals for yourself prior to a year?
Bradley, Jr.: “Nope. I just want to stay healthy and let my game speak for itself.”
Ashmore: Getting to the big leagues isn’t up to you, we all know that…but is there a timeline of any sort in your mind for when you think you’ll get there?
Bradley, Jr.: “Whenever they need me. Honestly, that’s how it goes. I’m just here trying to play and trying to do the small things the best I can and develop myself into a future major leaguer. That’s my goal, to be in the major leagues and to stay in the major leagues. Whenever they need me, and whenever the time is right, I’m here.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com