During a dark season for the Red Sox, most of the organization's bright spots came in the Minor Leagues. Jackie Bradley Jr. certainly fit that bill.
The 40th overall pick in the 2011 Draft bolted out of the gate in his first full pro season, putting together a .359/.480/.526 slash line in 67 games for Class A Advanced Salem. His .480 on-base percentage, coming primarily out of the leadoff spot, led all full-season Minor Leaguers during his tenure in the Carolina League. He carried that success to Double-A Portland before a difficult August (.229/.368/.343) brought his numbers back down to earth -- he went .271/.373/.437 with the Sea Dogs.
Perhaps more impressive than his work at the plate were Bradley's skills in center field. The 22-year-old, known for a pregame routine called "power shagging" in which he goes hard after each ball hit his way during batting practice, was named the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.
The whole package has led to speculation that the University of South Carolina product could end up replacing Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season.
Through it all, Bradley has tried to dismiss the hype and focus on his more immediate future. MiLB.com caught up with MLB.com's No. 32 overall prospect to discuss his future, the organization's past and inspirational Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson.
MiLB.com: How's the offseason been going? Between Boston, Pawtucket and Greenville, it seems like you've been around a lot.
Bradley: It's been good, yeah. I'm used to the travel, to be honest with you, though. I'm still traveling back and forth a lot between Virginia, my home where I grew up, and South Carolina, where I've been going to school and training. Plus, we're always constantly going back and forth because I have a lot of family in North Carolina, too. So between those three states, there's been a little bit of back-and-forth going on for a while.
MiLB.com: Jumping back a little bit from the offseason, evaluate last season, your first full one in pro ball.
Bradley: I'd say it was a season of ups and downs like, you know, normal. You do well and then get to a phase where you have to make adjustments because pitchers are learning you and you're picking up stuff that they're doing, too. Then there was getting promoted, which meant seeing new faces and getting used to the way the organization wants you to do things at that next level.
I learned a lot defensively, actually. I was able to manage the game a whole lot better, whether it was moving my corner outfielders better or doing other things. I stayed healthy, too, and that was the main thing I wanted to do. I guess I did have a slight little injury on my ankle at the end of the year, but it was just a sprained ankle.
MiLB: Do you feel avindicated to rebound from a subpar season at the plate and the wrist injury at South Carolina in 2011?
Bradley: Oh, it was definitely great to be able to bounce back, for sure. It was never in the front of my mind, though, trying to make up for last year. I just wanted to get to pro ball, start a new season and play ball like I know I can. I wanted to use it as a year to let people know I can deal with adversity like that.
MiLB.com: How much did that overall experience at USC, where you won two College World Series, prepare you for playing under the microscope that is the Red Sox organization?
Bradley: I'm used to the attention just from playing in such a big conference. And then to play some of the best teams in the country in the College World Series twice, it sets a foundation for you to build on. Of course, the school helped a lot, too. They teach you how to interact and talk with the media and give you speech classes for that. Certain organizations want to help you, so you don't get yourself in trouble or the organization in trouble. They'll show you the do's or don't's in those areas and make sure you understand the media's not there to hurt you. They can actually have a positive influence. That's the way I see it, as more of a positive thing, really. Working with the media shows the people who you are, the people who don't interact with you on a daily basis.
MiLB.com: You talked a little before about your defense, and a lot of scouting reports say it's your best tool. What makes you such a good center fielder?
Bradley: Instincts, being able to read pitches in the zone, things like that. Certain batters, you know from looking at them where you should be and you know their strengths and weaknesses. It's also moving around in certain counts and knowing the pitcher and what he's throwing so you can even anticipate something mid-pitch.
I'm always working at my defense and during batting practice, they've come to call what I do power shagging, where I'm just going as hard as possible in the outfield before the game. I like to get into in-game situations and see where my legs are that day as a warmup type of thing. I'll get out there, try to get the best reads I can, begin to know the field and how it plays before the game gets going.
MiLB.com: Where did that power shagging routine come from? Was there a specific coach who recommended it?
Bradley: Oh, it's just always been me. When I was younger, I saw the opportunity during batting practice to run around and catch as many balls as I could. You always watch TV and see these outfielders making these amazing plays. So I took that, bottled it up and when it came to BP, I see balls flying all over the place, so it seemed to make sense that I'd go after them. Now it's not just making one amazing play; I'm trying to make amazing plays back-to-back and see how many I can make in a row and keep that going.
MiLB.com: You had a chance to go up to Boston for a developmental camp with other prospects. What'd you take out of that?
Bradley: I got a lot out of it. I got to see some familiar faces -- guys I'd played with before -- but also guys who aren't so familiar and came over in trades or got picked up. It's good getting to meet up. Everyone seemed to gel right away, which is great. We were all from different parts of the country and obviously have different views on things, but we really enjoyed ourselves. We got to hear [Celtics coach] Doc Rivers talk, too, and he let us know of the competitive nature of the daily grind and that you have to be able to accept the role you're given and keep moving with it.
MiLB.com: Anything else stand out about what Doc said?
Bradley: He was saying about how a lot of people focus on the beginning of the year and the end of the year, but there's still a beginning, an end and a dash in the middle. He asked, "What're you going to do with that dash?" That's a quote that really stuck with me.
MiLB.com: There's group of prospects which is ranked highly -- Xander Bogaerts, Bryce Brentz, Allen Webster, to name a few -- at that developmental camp. Did you guys ever stop and talk about what could potentially be in, say, five years?
Bradley: No, we actually don't talk about that stuff. We just try to keep working and that just never comes up. Most of us played together before, like myself, Brentz and Bogaerts, so it feels like we've just been constantly playing with each other. We were just mostly having fun, joking around when we weren't working.
MiLB.com: When it comes to playing for a franchise like Boston, how much do you study up on the history of the team or do they pretty much teach it to you?
Bradley: It's a little bit of both. When we were up in Boston, [Jason] Varitek talked with us as well and he was saying how there are certain things you just need to know. You better know who Johnny Pesky is, you better know who Carl Yastrzemski is, Ted Williams, legends like that. If you don't, you need to take the time and ask and find out some information so you can know the people who are associated with this great historic organization. They do a very good job of helping with that stuff, like introducing us to guys who have made a big impact on this organization.
MiLB.com: Have you had a chance to roam center field at Fenway yet?
Bradley: I actually haven't. I got to watch a few games there, like in 2009, when I was playing in the Cape Cod League, I was able to see a game at Fenway. But I haven't been able to roam out there myself quite yet. In the Minors, there are a couple of replica fields that they tell us resemble Fenway. But it's not nearly the same in the fan aspect, that's for sure.
MiLB.com: What're you looking forward to most about having the chance to play there?
Bradley: Just everything about the whole experience. But to be honest, there are a lot of people who feel that once you've hit the big leagues, you've made it. I won't see it as I've made it. I see it as just the beginning. Since I was a little boy, I've wanted to be a Major Leaguer. You don't say you've made it just because you got to the Majors. There's so much more than that. Doctors aren't happy just because they've officially become doctors. They have long careers of saving lives in front of them.
MiLB.com: While we're on the topic of history, Jan. 31 was Jackie Robinson's birthday. With the movie 42 coming out in the spring, he's going to be talked about a lot and he's a guy you quote in your Twitter bio. In your eyes, what's his legacy?
Bradley: He's just so special, not just for African-Americans but for all minorities who play baseball. To play the game the way he did and everything he went through -- man, I can go on and do a whole speech on this.
Just think about the trials and tribulations he had to go through just to play the game he loved. Not only that, but his way of fighting back was not fighting back. The way he went about things, no other man could have done what he did. He's had a lasting effect on me, that's for sure. I try to represent that as much as I can. Even my license plate starts with my initials followed by his number, 42. Actually, I don't know if I'm supposed to say this -- me being a Boston player -- but I really want a Mariano Rivera signed jersey, just because I know he'll be the last guy to wear that number. That would mean a lot to me.
MiLB.com: On Twitter, it even seemed like you were jockeying to get a walk-on role in the movie 42.
Bradley: (Laughs) I was just joking around with all that. I just wanted to be a stunt double, a guy who brings up a bat for two seconds, something, anything. But by the time I brought that up, all the spots were filled. Someone told me the movie was pretty much done, which is what you expect when you know there's a trailer out already. They were just putting on the finishing touches, so that ended that.
MiLB.com: One more topic before we let you go. Is there anything you're trying to do differently this season?
Bradley: I'm looking to not tire out so much at the end of the season, having now been through it for a full year. I know what to expect. It was my first rodeo last year, and I kind of hit a wall and got tired. But now I've trained all offseason to prepare myself and I know what to expect and how to go about things the right way.
MiLB.com: Any particular tool you're looking to improve?
Bradley: I'd like to steal more bases, definitely. I'm trying to work with Mike Roberts, the father of Brian Roberts, to try to get whatever help I can on that. [Brian] was not really a super fast guy, but he could really steal bases. So I'm hoping I can pick up as many tidbits on the basepaths as I can.
MiLB.com: Is that hope of being better on the bases tied to trying to be a better leadoff man?
Bradley: It doesn't matter if I'm a leadoff guy, if I'm a ninth-hole guy, it doesn't matter. I want to improve all facets of my game and be a threat in everything I do. Offensively, defensively, on the basepaths, I'll do whatever it takes to be a great player.