The breakout seasons of Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2016 can be easily explained. Both saw more time in the major leagues, and with that experience comes adjustments and increased success. That is the way of the world in big league baseball.

Jackie Bradley Jr. and Chris Young were part of a close-knit Red Sox clubhouse. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Jackie Bradley Jr. and Chris Young were part of a close-knit Red Sox clubhouse. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The breakout seasons of Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2016 can be easily explained. Both saw more time in the major leagues, and with that experience comes adjustments and increased success. That is the way of the world in big league baseball.

But there was also a very real difference in the Red Sox’ clubhouse, as well.

While so many focused on the presence of David Ortiz in the designated hitter’s last season, the team’s aura was being defined by the group of young players who finally became secure enough in their major league existence to not just silently worry about their own lot in life.

Bradley Jr. Betts. Brock Holt. Travis Shaw. Xander Bogaerts. Andrew Benintendi. Christian Vazquez. Blake Swihart. And the additional veteran presence of Chris Young. While Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia were supplying their usual brand of leadership, the increased comfort level of the aforementioned group of position players became a very powerful dynamic.

Perhaps the most noticeable example of the evolution was Bradley Jr. He explained when appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast:

“Believe it or not, I’ve never really told anybody, this year was the first year I actually felt I was part of a team. In previous year, I stayed up the majority of year. But I didn’t really feel like I fit in. I was still trying to work through some things. I wasn’t sure when I was going to be up there at a particular time. The only reason why I started in 2014 there was because Shane [Victorino] got injured the last game of spring training so I didn’t necessarily make the team in 2014, even though a lot of people think I did. Just kind of finding myself and knowing what I need to do. I think this year was where I actually developed very strong bonds and close-knit relationships with people, not saying I didn’t have that before, but as a whole I was able to put everything together.”

While so many wonder about how the Red Sox are going to survive without Ortiz’s guidance, this reality should be understood.

Who knows how it will translate on the field. But whatever happens, it most likely won’t be pinned on the kind of uneasiness that Bradley Jr. explained.

TO LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE JACKIE BRADLEY JR. INTERVIEW, CLICK HERE

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Dustin Pedroia. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Dustin Pedroia. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Wednesday is Hall of Fame day. It’s when we uncover the next class. But with most of the voting having gone public, the results will ultimately be somewhat anti-climatic.

That’s why we should spend today having a different conversation.

We have plenty of time for the David Ortiz talk. The year 2021, to be exact. So with the designated hitter starting his Hall of Fame clock, now we can turn to which player still wearing a Red Sox uniform should be considered Cooperstown-worthy.

It’s a debate that might take a bit more effort — which, as we found out through the latest round of balloting, isn’t often times a favorite of voters. But a worthy exercise, nonetheless.

Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have Hall of Fame talent. That much we do know. But their cautionary tale is teammate Hanley Ramirez, who through is first five years as a major leaguer had .313 batting average and .906 OPS to along with the sixth-most total bases from 2006-10.

Now we can’t, with all good conscious, introduce Ramirez into any Hall of Fame conversation.

The pitchers? David Price could make a run at it. Through his first eight seasons he has the third-most wins over that span, equaling Clayton Kershaw. The lefty has also turned in more innings than all but four starters, while managing a 3.23 ERA, all while pitching exclusively in the American League.

Hall of Famer Randy Johnson had 20 fewer wins and a 3.55 during his first eight full seasons in the bigs, hitting his ninth legit year two years older than Price. So there is a chance.

But with the volatility of pitchers’ shoulders and elbows, projecting into their 30’s, is a dangerous proposition.

That brings us to Dustin Pedroia.

The Red Sox’ second baseman has put himself in a pretty good position.

His health is obviously the wild card. But for the sake of this discussion, we will work under the assumption that Pedroia is going to be using the momentum of last season’s health (154 games) to stay on the field.

The foundation of his case should be with the most recent second baseman to enter the Hall, Craig Biggio. Through the same number of plate appearances Pedroia currently own (6,280), the former Astro owned a .290 batting average and .809 OPS with 126 homers. They’re all numbers the Sox’ star eclipse, with both players hitting the plate appearance jumping off point at relatively the same age.

As we sit here right now, Pedroia has a career batting average of .301, an .811 OPS and 133 homers.

Biggio did go on to play nine more seasons, but hit just .269 during that stretch with a modest .776 OPS.

Perhaps comparing Pedroia to a sure-fire first ballot middle infielder might offer more of a convincing case. Let’s use Derek Jeter.

Through that 6,280 plate-appearance jumping off point, Jeter is ahead of Pedroia. But not by as much as you might think. During that start of the former Yankee’s career, he hit .315 with an .850 OPS and 151 homers. The rest of the way? Jeter totaled 6,271 plate appearances over just more than nine seasons and hit .304 with a .785 OPS.

Catching Jeter might not be realistic, but presenting a better case than Biggio? That isn’t out of the realm of possibility. And if that’s the case, then you should have another Red Sox Hall of Famer.

Such a long way to go, and plenty of time to talk. Seems like a good a time as any to kick things off.

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Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Andrew Benintendi didn’t play like a rookie when he was promoted to the big leagues. Now he doesn’t look like one, either.

Andrew Benintendi didn’t play like a rookie when he was promoted to the big leagues. Now he doesn’t look like one, either.

Benintendi finished his first foray into major league baseball hitting .295 with an .835 OPS and two home runs. He also went 3-for-9 with a homer in the postseason.

He’s evidently put the physique tailored for playing high school basketball in the rear-view mirror, as this Cincinnati Enquirer photo suggests …

Benintendi

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Talking to Jackie Bradley Jr., it’s clear that the Red Sox outfielder has a deep respect for those who came before him.

Jackie Bradley Jr. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Jackie Bradley Jr. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Talking to Jackie Bradley Jr., it’s clear that the Red Sox outfielder has a deep respect for those who came before him.

He has discussed in length about his admiration for Jackie Robinson, while also making a point to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum last season. And when it comes to honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday, Bradley Jr. noted while appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast, “[King Jr.] just wanted everybody to be treated equal and that was the message that he preached. And to this day everybody would want that, or at least I know I do.”

So when the topic of living life as an African-American major league baseball player in Boston came up on the podcast, Bradley Jr. was predictably insightful

It is a topic of particular interest, not only because of the man the nation celebrates on Jan. 16, but also because of recent news items involving the Celtics’ Jae Crowder and Bradley Jr.’s Red Sox teammate, David Price, who told the Boston Globe he has heard racial taunts at Fenway Park.

“Overall experience, I have had nothing too terribly negative said about me,” he said. “I can only speak about my experience. As a whole, you will have people here and there, but that’s just some people. That’s not a majority. You can link everybody as a majority. It was definitely an adjustment period for me because I’m from the South so the weather, for one, was an adjustment. Just people’s personalities. LIke opening doors for people and not hearing ‘Thank you,’ I would always say, ‘You’re welcome’ to get them to have a response. But that’s not everyone. I’ve enjoyed my time in Boston. I have nothing negative to say about it. I know my wife enjoys it. I’ve been very welcome and I haven’t heard anything personally directly to me said negatively.

“Social media is social media. Anybody can write something. But those same people are probably the same people who are first in line to speak to you, or get an autograph. You kind of just take it how it is and go about your business.”

Growing up in Virginia, and going to college at the University of South Carolina, Bradley Jr.’s had also heard about, and researched, the sometimes uncomfortable history of race relations in Boston, and involving the Red Sox.

“I’ve heard a lot of different things, knowing Boston was the last American League team to have an African-American player in MLB. I kind of researched a little bit about [former Red Sox owner Tom] Yawkey … ,” he said.

“I’m definitely able to speak on certain things and speak my mind, because I feel comfortable talking about certain situations. Those are things you know coming in, but I don’t let that kind of stuff distract me from the goal at hand. I’m here to compete, help my team win, provide for my family and kind of everything else is everything else. I’m focused and I want to win, and that’s what it all boils down to.”

While Bradley Jr. downplays the effect any perceived racial issues have had on him during his time in the Red Sox organization, he also hasn’t totally immune to the kind of vitriol Price spoke of.

“I definitely had a lot of struggle in 2014. I think that was most racist type things that were directed toward me during that time,” Bradley Jr. said. “But it’s all growing pains. If you don’t know what somebody has been through, the adversity they’ve been through, it’s kind of hard to make that judgment. They’re judging solely off of performance in my career, which, by the way, was just getting started. There is definitely a lot of room to grow and improve. I’m willing to put the work in and I feel like last year was a stepping stone in showing that.”

TO LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE PODCAST WITH JACKIE BRADLEY JR., CLICK HERE

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

When it comes to the World Baseball Classic, Jackie Bradley is saying thanks, but no thanks.

Jackie Bradley Jr. isn't playing in the World Baseball Classic. (Winslow Townsend/USA Today Sports)

Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t playing in the World Baseball Classic. (Winslow Townsend/USA Today Sports)

When it comes to the World Baseball Classic, Jackie Bradley is saying thanks, but no thanks.

Appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast, the Red Sox outfielder explained that he was presented the option of playing for Team USA in the upcoming tournament. But a combination of factors made Bradley Jr. respectively decline the opportunity this time around.

A good portion of the decision was based on Bradley Jr.’s desire to spend more time with his 7-month-old daughter.

“I am not,” said Bradley Jr. when asked if he would be playing in the upcoming WBC. “They reached out to ask about my interest. At first I thought it might be something I would be very interested in and if I would want to be a part of. But then as sat back, I’m still just kind of jump-starting my career. Obviously I have a little daughter now. I didn’t think it would be worth those 2 1/2 to three weeks of time I was going to miss, with being in spring training I’m on a routine so get to come home every single day. If I play in the World Baseball Classic I wouldn’t be able to do that. The travel is constant, being on the West Coast. At the end of last year when my daughter was born, we went on a lot of long road trips so I got to miss her 12 and 13 days at a time. This is just important to me to stay here for a couple of months and maybe next time if I get that opportunity again, if it arises. I’ll be at a different time in my life and my career.”

The outfielder also wanted to place importance on keeping the same kind of routine he had leading into a breakout 2016 season, which saw the 26-year-old hit 26 homers with an .835 OPS in 156 games.

“I’m not going to be able to workout the way I want to if I’m doing the World Baseball Classic,” he noted. “It’s something that I’ve been able to establish and I feel comfortable with. I have to continuously get better. I’m not saying I couldn’t with the Baseball Classic, but this is where I want to be right now, and that’s home with the family.”

Bradley Jr., who just agreed to a $3.6 million, one-year deal with the Red Sox, has previously experienced playing for his country, suiting up for USA Baseball’s collegiate national team while at the University of South Carolina.

“Obviously representing your country is a big thing,” he said. “I definitely enjoyed in when I was in college, putting Team USA on my chest. But at this stage in my particular career I still need to get things done before taking it to that step.”

Red Sox players who have tentatively committed to play in the WBC include Xander Bogaerts (Netherlands), Hanley Ramirez (Dominican Republic) and Sandy Leon (Venezuela). Starting pitchers Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcell have declined the opportunity, while it isn’t yet known if closer Craig Kimbrel (who played in 2013) and/or Mookie Betts will participate for Team USA.

TO LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE PODCAST WITH JACKIE BRADLEY JR., CLICK HERE

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford
Rob Bradford is joined by Jackie Bradley Jr. to discuss race in baseball and in Boston, along with the importance of Martin Luther King Day. The Red Sox outfielder also dives into how he never really felt comfortable in a major league clubhouse until last year, the approach he's taking heading into 2017, and why he's not playing in the World Baseball Classic.