WHILE JACOBY ELLSBURY continues a rehab assignment in the Gulf Coast League, another center fielder in the Red Sox system is tearing up Double-A. Jackie Bradley Jr., who tormented the Fisher Cats last week, is playing like he's ready to replace Ellsbury.
No need to rush Bradley. Ellsbury (shoulder) is expected to rejoin Boston after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, fans can watch the electric 22-year-old Sea Dog in a three-game set at New Hampshire beginning Wednesday.
Bradley, recently called up from Advanced-A Salem, went 8-for-18 in the four-game series against New Hampshire at Hadlock Field. The buzz-worthy prospect entered the weekend leading Red Sox minors leaguers in batting (.362) and leading all of the minors in on-base percentage (.477).
“He's a manager's dream and not just because of the physical skills,” Sea Dogs skipper Kevin Boles said. “He plays the game the right way and has the instincts. He's on a mission and wants to become a complete player. We are very excited to have him in our uniform and playing for the Boston Red Sox.”
Bradley won back-to-back College World Series titles at South Carolina and was selected with the 40th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Early success in the Eastern League is reminiscent of Ellsbury, who broke into the league at age 20 and put on a stunning display against the Fisher Cats at then-Merchantsauto.com Stadium.
A lefty stick, Bradley steps to the plate with an open stance and allows the ball to travel deep into his strike zone, relying on lightning-quick bat speed. Friday night, while batting with the bases loaded, he fell behind in the count and eventually earned a seven-pitch walk to give the Sea Dogs a 5-3 lead. Plus-arm strength and range add to the multiple tools, along with an advanced mental approach. One of Bradley's biggest strengths is refusing to allow failure adversely affect his game.
“You can't dwell on the past or past games. Just get over it. The faster you get over it, the better and more comfortable you'll be with yourself,” he said before a game against the Fisher Cats. “It's just a game. I'm having fun. My job is to have fun playing the game I love. When I'm on the field, I'm at peace.”
Before stepping into the batter's box, Bradley inscribes the initials “M.S.” into the dirt, a tribute to lifelong friend Matt Saye of Virginia, who died in a single-car accident last summer. The loss sharpened Bradley's “perspective on life as a whole” and has given him a greater appreciation for each day on earth.
“You never what the next day will bring — if there is a next day,” he said. “This really all came to me after my best friend passed away in August. He was like a brother to me. In his obituary, I was mentioned as his only surviving brother. And he was a different race (white). That's how close we were. If anyone is wondering what I'm writing in the dirt, it's for him. I know he has my back, and he's there supporting me.”
Bradley, despite standing off the plate, has a knack for reaching base with a free pass (55 walks, 49 strikeouts). He led the Carolina League with 52 free passes and .359 batting average. From one at-bat to the next, he can change from a finicky slap hitter to a ferocious gap hitter. All depends on the pitcher.
“I try to have a different plan against every type of pitcher. Sometimes you need to work counts and other times you want to be aggressive right away. I'm not going to wait and take a whole lot of pitches when a guy has been filling up the strike zone. You have to attack him because you know he's going to be attacking you.”
Bradley had base hits off six Fisher Cats pitchers as Portland and New Hampshire split the four-game series at Hadlock Field. The Sea Dogs newcomer is thrilled by his success at Double-A — but not surprised.
“It's been a great year, especially because I've stayed healthy. I'm not surprised with what I'm doing,” said Bradley, who hit safely in eight of his first nine starts with Portland. “If you play the game the right way, good things happen.”
- - - - - - - -
FISHER TRACKS: Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill, who played for the Fisher Cats in 2004, hit for the cycle on Friday night at Milwaukee. Hill, batting .303, twice hit for the cycle twice in June — the first time since 1931 a major leaguer has cycled twice in a month.
Triple-A Las Vegas teammates Travis d'Arnaud and Anthony Gose, who led the Fisher Cats to a 2011 championship, were selected to play in the 14th annual All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City next Sunday. d'Arnaud, however, suffered a torn knee ligament (posterior cruciate) in his left knee while sliding into second base last week. The catcher will miss six to eight weeks. Gose, batting .291 with a league-leading 29 stolen bases, is the only Blue Jays farmhand scheduled to play in the Futures Game.
Fisher Cats third baseman Mark Sobolewski has been added to the Eastern League All-Star Game, hosted by the Reading Phillies on July 11. Ryan Goins, Sam Dyson, Mike McDade and Yohan Pino will also represent New Hampshire.
- - - - - - - -
COLLEGE LEAGUES: Salem High graduate Nick Poore pitched six scoreless innings to earn his first win for the Nashua Silver Knights of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. The Boston College southpaw defeated Martha's Vineyard on Thursday as Nashua won its eighth straight game at Holman Stadium. Logan Gillis of Merrimack High and Bentley College took a lead-leading .435 average into the weekend.
The Laconia Muskrats erased a five-run deficit and pulled off a 7-6 walk-off win against the New Bedford Bay Sox last week. Defending champion Keene plays at Laconia on Wednesday (5 p.m.) in the New England Collegiate Baseball League game of the week. Danny Collins of the Muskrats fashioned a .410 average through his first 16 games, ranking second in the league. Laconia's Mathew Aldrich leads the NECBL with 27 strikeouts.
- - - - - - - -
FARM REPORT: Lefty Jeff Locke threw six scoreless innings as Triple-A Indianapolis (Pirates) beat Toledo on Friday. The Kennett High of Conway graduate allowed only four hits and improved to 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA. Locke is a leading candidate to earn a promotion to Pittsburgh. Nashua South's Kevin Nolan, named to the Florida State League All-Star Game, is batting .311 for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Nashua North product K.C. Hobson has been heating up, batting .345 in a 10-game stretch for the low-A Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays). Winnisquam of Tilton product Jordan Cote has made three appearances for the Gulf Coast League Yankees, allowing three earned runs through 14 innings. Joey Maher of Bedford has made a pair of three-inning relief appearances for the GCL Yankees, giving up four earned runs.
- - - - - - - -
Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is email@example.com. Twitter: @graymatter11.