MOOSIC, Pa. – The book on Jackie Bradley Jr. is that he possesses a keen eye at the plate and is a very disciplined hitter. In his first week with the Boston Red Sox, the highly-touted outfielder did little to sway how he’s perceived.
Entering Sunday’s road-trip finale in Toronto, Bradley had seen 92 total pitches in five games. The 18.4 pitches-per-game average furthers the belief that despite beginning just his second full pro season, the 22-year-old already has a thorough understanding of what is a strike and what isn’t.
Asked to explain pitch recognition as it pertains to Bradley, Pawtucket Red Sox hitting coach Dave Joppie gladly took the chance to compliment the prized prospect. Joppie worked for a short time with Bradley last summer when he was the hitting coach for Double-A Portland during Bradley’s stint there.
“No. 1, Jackie profiles into our offensive philosophy as far as what we preach as an organization and what we’re looking for with guys who can manage the strike zone well and take pride in grinding out at-bats,” Joppie said. “I know he for sure takes a lot of pride in making the pitcher work. That’s something he’s clearly stated in our conversations during the brief time we were together in Portland.”
Piecing together quality at-bats that culminate with a base hit or walk is one obvious way to judge hitters. But the Red Sox as an organization also pay attention to the at-bats that, even if they end with an out recorded, perhaps the hitter was successful in making the pitcher work a little extra during that particular confrontation. Joppie said that those types of at bats are part of what defines “team baseball.”
“You take a Dustin Pedroia and a Kevin Youkilis – guys who take a lot of pride in putting together good at-bats not only for themselves but for the team. Whatever a hitter does ahead of them may have an impact on what they do,” said Joppie, who’s new to the PawSox this season after spending the previous five seasons as the Sea Dogs’ hitting coach. “The type of at-bat that Jackie or Dustin puts together may play up later on in the inning or turn that lineup over again.
“It’s fun to watch when all nine guys are on the same page, trying to get the starting pitcher out of there before the fifth inning and into the bullpen, especially during the first or second game of a series, Joppie delved further. “You expose that soft underbelly that by the time the third game rolls around, the bullpen is decimated. That’s how you win series.”
Among the specific instances recently where the youngster has exercised superior restraint: against Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia, Bradley was able to work two walks, taking close pitches for ball four both times; and a few nights later, Bradley took a similar close pitch with Marino Rivera on the hill. The advantage went to the veteran closer as Bradley was caught looking.
Joppie weighed in: “People forget that (2012) was Jackie’s first full year in professional baseball, but what puts him ahead of the curve is that he already has strike-zone discipline and knowledge and knows how to manage at-bats.
“Our scouting has done a great job in finding individuals who not have the talent, but also have the intangibles of someone like Jackie who profiles into our offensive philosophy. They have a track record of doing that against advanced competition.”
Joppie then cautioned that just because a player has compiled a noteworthy reputation – at South Carolina, Bradley played in consecutive College World Series – doesn’t mean that he should be placed on the fast track for success.
“There are some guys who will come into the organization and have absolutely zero approach at the plate. That’s something that we try to instill in young hitters – consistent at-bat plans and learning how to manage good at-bats from pitch-to-pitch and game-to-game and series-to-series, grinding out every at-bat so that it can benefit them and the team regardless of the scoreboard,” notes Joppie. “If you go up to the major leagues trying to learn strike-zone discipline and how to manage at-bats, you’re not going to stay up there long. It’s few and far between as far as guys who have that kind of ability like a Vladimir (Guerrero) – incredible hand-eye coordination who can hit just about every pitch thrown up there.”
While Bradley’s frequent reluctance to offer can give a pitcher fits, Joppie says that his approach shouldn’t be thought of as “passive.” In another at bat from the game where he struck out against Rivera, Bradley took the first two pitches from Andy Pettitte before jumping on an 80-mph slider for a run-scoring double.
“No matter where he hits in the lineup, whether he’s hitting in the leadoff spot or the bottom third of the lineup, Jackie is going to be very patient and disciplined at the plate,” said Joppie. “Then again he’s not afraid to ambush first pitch. He’s not up there looking for a walk. If you watch, Jackie will get on a first pitch if it’s there. He’s not in a take mode. He’s putting himself in a good position with every pitch he sees and gets some information from that.”