GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 5, 2013

Bradley Jr. doesn't expect to hit any walls this year

Sox center fielder of the future confident he's ready

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — Red Sox minor league center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. batted .315 with a sensational .430 on-base percentage last year during his first full professional season but hit just .229 during the final full month.

“I was used to playing 70 games max in college,” Bradley said. “When you hear (140 games), you’re like, ‘That’s fine.’ But when you have to actually do it and you hit that wall, you’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’”

Bradley felt fatigued as the season progressed.

“I felt like I was prepared for it physically,” he said. “Mentally, it wore on me — just knowing it was a lot more games.”

Bradley, 22, very likely will be the Boston Red Sox center fielder on Opening Day 2014 with Jacoby Ellsbury expected to hit the free agent market at the end of this year.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound left-handed hitting Bradley is an above-average defender, stole 24 bases, stroked 42 doubles, legged out four triples, smashed nine homers and drove in 63 runs combined between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland last year.

Last week, Bradley was one of six Red Sox players named in MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list. Bradley ranked No. 32. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts (20th overall) was the only Red Sox prospect ranked higher.

It should be very interesting to see how Bradley hits in 2013 — being used to a longer schedule.

“I’ll know what to expect this year,” Bradley said. “It won’t get to me.”

Bradley has been working out this offseason at the University of South Carolina, where he played college ball from 2009-11 and is taking classes.

Bradley said his No. 1 goal is to stay healthy this summer.

“If you stay healthy, you give yourself the best opportunity you can to perform,” Bradley said.

Expect him to start the year in Triple-A Pawtucket. Don’t rule out a call-up to the big leagues at some point.

Gregg’s dad Eric

New Red Sox director of media relations Kevin Gregg, 32, is the son of the late Eric Gregg, a National League umpire for 23 years. Eric was only the third African-American umpire in the history of Major League Baseball and died in June 2006 after a massive stroke.

Two knuckleballers

Knuckleballer Steven Wright, who Boston acquired from Cleveland last season and added to its 40-man roster this offseason, is no longer the only knuckleballer in the Red Sox system.

The Red Sox recently signed Charlie Haeger, according to BaseballAmerica.com. The 29-year-old knuckleballer was with the Sox organization in 2011, including posting a 4-1 record and 3.24 ERA in eight starts for the Portland Sea Dogs.

Be patient with Wright and Haeger. It often takes time for a knuckleballer to truly develop his pitch into a dominant one.

For instance, ace R.A. Dickey, now with Toronto, had little success until his mid-30s. Over the past three years, though, he has been one of the best pitchers in the majors and won the 2012 NL Cy Young.

During spring training last year, Wright ran into Indians president Mark Shapiro who had interesting words of wisdom for him.

“He goes, ‘You’re the one guy out of all these lockers that age is just a number — it means nothing,’” Wright recalled. “He goes, ‘For us, you’re just a newly drafted pitcher.’”

Other Red Sox prospects

MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects in baseball list included six Red Sox players: Bogaerts (20th), Bradley (32nd), right-handed pitcher Matt Barnes (38th), right-handed pitcher Allen Webster (71st), left-hander Henry Owens (94th) and shortstop Jose Iglesias (96th).

Bradley played this year with Bogaerts, the 20-year-old phenom who batted .307 with a .373 on-base percentage and stroked 20 homers and drove in 81 runs between Salem and Portland.

“For him to do the things he’s done at such a young age, it’s an amazing feat,” Bradley said about Bogaerts. “It’s a credit to him and his work ethic. He’s continuously working.”

Kelly just ahead of Webster

It’s interesting that Casey Kelly, the pitcher the Red Sox gave to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez before the 2011 season, is ranked No. 69 in MLB.com’s Top 100 prospect list — just two spots ahead of Webster who the Red Sox received from the Dodgers for Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto this past season.

That said, the Red Sox not only did an unbelievable job by dumping Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett’s large contracts, but they also did a fine job of acquiring young talent in both Webster and right-hander Rubby De La Rosa after losing two top prospects (Kelly and Anthony Rizzo) in the initial Gonzalez trade.

Arm like Pudge’s

Catcher Christian Vazquez, who Boston added to its 40-man roster this offseason, said his favorite catcher growing up was Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez who is known for having quite the arm, throwing out 46 percent of base stealers during his 21-year career.

The 22-year-old Vazquez has quite the arm himself. He threw out 49 of 122 base stealers (40 percent) this past year in 96 games combined between Salem and Portland.

“I want to work on everything and get better at everything: my blocking, my throwing, my calling games, think about the hitters, learn the hitters,” said Vazquez, adding that a pitcher must be confident in his catcher.

His defense is what the Red Sox like the most about him. His hitting needs some improvement. Vazquez has been working in the cage hard this offseason.

“My dad is my hitting coach,” he said.