Jackie Bradley Jr.: 'I'm not replacing Jacoby [Ellsbury]'

February 15, 2014 - 4:41 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. moved freely through the spring training clubhouse a year ago at this time, a little-noticed presence as a non-roster invitee (uniform No. 74) until his play on the field started speaking loudly for him. He then became a spring sensation, ultimately storming his way to the big leagues in a fashion that caught everyone off guard. This spring is different. Bradley is still seated close to one of the far corners of the clubhouse, but in 2014, he represents one of the most significant figures on the Red Sox. Now in possession of a uniform number that attests to his role as a likely everyday player (No. 25, with which he finished last year), Bradley has an opportunity to claim the role of the heir apparent to Jacoby Ellsbury as the Sox' everyday center fielder. Yet the newfound prominence hardly seemed to bother Bradley. Instead, he insisted he's comfortable with what lies in front of him, and eager to prove himself worthy of laying claim to the job of everyday center fielder. "I don't feel any pressure. I'm not replacing Jacoby. I'm just going to be myself, enjoy it and have fun," said Bradley. "Opportunities don't really come often so you want to make sure you take full advantage of them." That, of course, is precisely what Bradley did a year ago, commanding the attention of everyone in the Red Sox organization with his nearly flawless execution, attention to detail and strong performance in games. However, once the season commenced, he rarely showed the same dynamism, struggling offensively (.190 average, .280 OBP, .337 slugging in 37 games) in a number of stints in the big leagues. Even so, Bradley suggested that he benefited from the experiences and challenges of last year, particularly given the opportunity to learn from teammates at the top of their profession. He described the fashion in which he "[learned] pretty much how to be a professional, what every single day entails as a big leaguer. That goes with on and off the field stuff. I kind of know what's ahead of me now so to speak going forward." What lies ahead of Bradley is the chance to assert himself as the Sox' everyday center fielder. To do so, however, he will have to prove that he's more deserving than veteran Grady Sizemore, a player who was once among the best in the American League but who has missed all of the last two years due to injury. Bradley sees no slight in the notion that he must win the job over Sizemore. Instead, he sees a dynamic that should ultimately benefit the Red Sox. "Competition in general is very beneficial. When you're competing, that brings the best out of all players. That's what we do; we compete and we enjoy competing," said Bradley. "I don't look at it as a particular situation. I just look at it as another teammate who's going to help towards the ultimate goal. We're all here for the same reason: To compete, have fun, try to win a championship." Last spring, Bradley looked like a player capable of helping in just that capacity. Now, if he can once again display his broad skill set as an elite defender, strong baserunner and hitter with excellent plate discipline, he has a chance to assume a prominent role in the Sox' quest to repeat.