Most baseball fans are familiar with the phrase "Three True Outcomes". The term refers to walks, strike outs and home runs. These outcomes are "true" in that they pit the pitcher against the batter, largely independent of outside factors like defense or foot speed. When ball four is awarded to the batter, it is a certainty that he will be reaching first base.
When it comes to prospects, certainties do not exist. Every prospect has a wide range of outcomes between their ceiling and floor potential, with most players settling somewhere in between the two. I like to think of prospect outcomes as the Dream (the player's ceiling), the Nightmare (the player's floor) and the Reality (weighing all the factors to come up with the most likely outcome). Throughout the year, I will be examining the ceilings and floors of players across the minor leagues, and making my best forecast on the eventual outcome. Today, I take a look at the Three (Possibly) True Outcomes of one of the most popular players in baseball right now, Red Sox' opening day left fielder, Jackie Bradley Jr.
After earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the 2010 College World Series, Jackie Bradley seemed like a lock to be a top-15 selection in the draft the following year. A wrist injury during the 2011 season really hurt his production and scared some teams away, thus dropping him to Red Sox with the 40th overall selection. In 2012, he did his best to make every other team regret that they passed on him. Bradley hit .315/.430/.482 with 9 home runs and 24 stolen bases split between high-A and Double-A. Additionally, Boston named him their defensive player of the year, and the managers of the Carolina League rated his bat, plate discipline, base running, outfield defense, and outfield arm as tops in the circuit. Heading into 2013, it was assumed Bradley would begin the season back in Double-A Portland with a shot at a late season call up. Then spring training started and it quickly became apparent that Bradley wanted more than a Major League cameo this year. During the spring he hit .419/.507/.613 with 2 home runs and 2 steals in 28 games. His performance, coupled with David Ortiz's lingering injury problems enabled Bradley to break camp with the big club. Now that he's reached the Majors, the question becomes just how good can he be? His approach and discipline make him an ideal leadoff candidate and a player that is poised to post OBPs over .375 with regularity. Getting on base at such a high rate will lead to high runs totals and many opportunities for stolen bases. And as he continues to add strength, the potential for 20 home runs is becoming an increasing reality.
Ceiling Fantasy Line: .303 average, 114 runs, 68 RBIs, 18 home runs, 41 steals
The three big prospect hubs, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Keith Law, all ranked Bradley as one of the top-40 prospects in baseball, while the Fake Teams staff only ranked him as the 25th best outfield prospect. Why the large discrepancy? A large chunk of Bradley's value stems from the fact that he is an excellent defensive centerfielder. As we all are painfully aware, that won't help in fantasy leagues. Fortunately, Bradley's defense and plate discipline make his floor higher than most, but he lacks elite abilities in the categories that are important to fantasy owners. While he stole 24 bases last year, scouts agree that his speed is merely average, and as he continues to mature, that speed may become below average. We also shouldn't expect big power numbers from him. Even the loftiest of power projections have Bradley hitting 10-15 home runs in his prime; with most saying he will only have gap power. That leaves batting average as the fantasy avenue to shine, but once again his hit tool is more solid average than it is elite, meaning his batting averages should usually be the same. And for someone with very little power and such good plate discipline, he strikes out quite a bit. Bradley struck out over 18% of the time at Double-A, and the swing and miss in his game is a concern. Again, because of his defense and ability to take a walk he should solidify himself as a big league regular, but there is a good chance he is well below average in every fantasy category.
Floor Fantasy Line: .258 average, 72 runs, 44 RBIs, 7 home runs, 19 steals
Let it be known that I am a Red Sox fan, so writing the last portion of this article was hard to write. The legend of Bradley has grown each day this spring, and I think the perception right now is that he will be much closer to the Dream than the Nightmare. Is that really the case? Just read the following quotes on his offensive potential:
Lacks plus speed, game power plays below average, most likely a down-the-lineup offensive threat - Jason Parks
(He) might max out around 10-12 homers a year. - Keith Law
He's not a base stealer but Bradley has some guile on the base paths - Marc Hulett.
The reports don't exactly inspire confidence in his future offensive profile, do they? Still, Bradley has the qualities you look for in a prospect who may profile above his tools. Managers, executives, and scouts rave about his makeup, work ethic, and competitiveness, all traits that made it possible for him to reach the Majors so quickly. It is also encouraging to find a prospect that already draws high marks for his approach and baserunning instincts, which may allow his home run and stolen base totals to exceed the projections. Plus, we can't forget that Fenway Park should help him as well. I like Bradley to become a slightly better version of David DeJesus (look up his 2006-2009 numbers before you bash him) or Denard Span. Although he seems destined to be a player whose real value is much higher than his fantasy value, he should help fantasy owners as a solid #2 or #3 outfielder for years to come.
Fantasy Line: .284 average, 89 runs, 55 RBIs, 12 home runs, 26 steals
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