As the 2014 MLB Season came to fruition, questions swirled around who would be in the defending World Series champs’ outfield, specifically center-field. As we saw Jacoby Ellsbury sign a 7-year, $153 million dollar deal with the rival New York Yankees, and watched as the only new face brought into the Sox outfield was the injury-prone Grady Sizemore, skepticism arose.
Come Spring Training, it appeared that Sizemore still had some life left in him, and he beat out the young Jackie Bradley Jr. for the starting center-field job. However, with nagging injuries to Shane Victorino, Bradley Jr. was here to stay with the Sox, at least for the time being.
Through the first 7 games, the former South Carolina Gamecock has made good on his early season opportunities.
The 23-year-old has seen action in six games, including his second career start in right field on Monday night against the Texas Rangers. In 16 at-bats, Bradley has smacked 6 hits, scored 2 runs, and added 3 RBIs to his cause, two of which came on Monday night against Texas. Offense aside, it seems like Jackie is learning to play right field pretty well, making several tough catches, including a difficult sliding catch on second-basemen Donnie Murphy in the second inning.
Maybe 6 games is too early to start praising him. He started off hot last season and ended up finishing hitting at a .189 clip. But the only reason there should be any early excitement is because of the lack of excitement from teammate Daniel Nava.
In 2013, Nava had a breakout season at age 30, where he posted a .303 batting average, with a .385 OBP and 66 RBIs, but those same results haven’t shown up yet in 2014. Nava comes in with a .138 batting average, and just a .219 OBP. To make things worse, Nava has been misplaying balls between time in left-field and right-field, and has already amassed 2 errors.
At this point in the season, although early, Bradley Jr. has outplayed Nava, giving him one reason to see more playing time than Daniel, but what Bradley Jr. also has on his side is potential. Jackie is only 23, and just last year was one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Nava meanwhile, is 31, and although he is a hard-working, gritty player, his future is limited. If the Sox see that Bradley Jr. is already outplaying Nava, it’s going to be near impossible to choose the 31-year-old over the 23-year-old.
Maybe it’s just the case of a slow start for Nava, but with Shane Victorino coming back from injury soon, there’s going to be an odd man out in that outfield. With Jackie Bradley Jr.’s hot start, and assuming Sizemore can build on his impressive Opening Day start, where he had two hits, including a home run, Nava may become the aforementioned odd man.
Does this mean Nava is off the team? No, not necessarily. He also has the ability to play first-base, and all of the outfield spots. If his season continues on like the way it has begun, it may mean that he’s going to lose a lot of playing time, and a lot of his starts, to Jackie Bradley Jr.
Shawn McFarland covers the MLB for Call To The Pen