Editor’s Note: This is part of an off-season series from BoSox Banter detailing the club’s top 40 prospects, starting with No. 1 prospect Xander Bogaerts. To read the entire series, click on Red Sox Top 40 Prospects – For 2013 in the Categories section.
By Jeff Louderback
This off-season, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is confronted with a myriad of decisions, one of which involves the future of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
The 29-year-old Ellsbury, who mustered just four home runs and 26 RBI to accompany a .271 average in 323 plate appearances in an injury-plagued 2012 season, has one year remaining before he is eligible for free agency. Boston’s most feasible options include signing him to a long-term extension; letting him play his final year with the Red Sox and then giving him a qualifying offer, allowing him to leave as a free agent and get the draft compensation; or trading him this off-season.
If Cherington and company decide to part ways with Ellsbury – whether it be this off-season or after 2013 – they can rest easier because the Red Sox have a center fielder of the near future in their farm system.
Jackie Bradley, a supplemental first round pick out of the University of South Carolina in 2011, is on the fast track to the majors. A well-polished defensive center fielder with a strong arm, the 22-year-old Bradley hit .359 with a 1.006 OPS at advanced Single-A Salem (Va.) this year before being promoted to Double-A Portland, where he batted .271 with a .809 OPS.
MLB.com and SoxProspects.com alike rank Bradley as the club’s third-best prospect behind Bogaerts and right-handed starting pitcher Matt Barnes. I rate Bradley ahead of Barnes because of his immediate impact potential when he reaches the majors and his long-term value as a difference-making center fielder and hitter.
Currently slotted at No. 39 on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list, Bradley was compared to Jim Edmonds by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo. Chances are, Bradley will open the 2013 campaign at Portland and potentially earn a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. He could be Major League ready at some point next season, or at least by spring training in 2014.