All those B’s in the title got me bobbing my head to this. Man, I can listen to that song all day. Anyways, back to the order at hand. In preseason NFBC drafts, Jackie Bradley Jr. is being selected, on average, with the 146th overall pick. Byron Buxton is going at pick 147. I thought this would be an easy and straightforward piece to research and write. If you read last week’s Bear or Bull, you know that I eschew the hackers for the more disciplined batters. Choosing between the two proved to be a far more difficult endeavor, though.
In 331 plate appearances last year, Buxton struck out 35.6% of the time and had a 15% swinging strike rate. He managed to hit .225 WITH a .329 BABIP. Bradley Jr., on the other hand, clubbed 26 home runs, scored 94 runs, drove in 87, stole nine bases, and hit .267 while striking out 22% and walking 10% of the time. The 26 home runs really stood out to me, as he had never eclipsed 10 in any professional season. While ESPN Home Run Tracker labeled 10 of Bradley’s homers as “just enough,” his average true distance (399.1 feet) was close to the MLB average of 400 feet. The more I kept looking at the advanced stats, the more comfortable I was getting with my initial assessment of Bradley over Buxton. He was hitting more line drives, hard contact % went up, GB%, FB%, and HR/FB were all in-line, and his plate discipline numbers actually got better. Yet, like any good grasshopper, I kept searching. Why you ask? Maybe it was because I didn’t want to get type-cast into being the GET OFF MY LAWN-boring-old guy. Whatever the reason may be, I found what I was looking for. Or maybe it found me. Or maybe…
Jay’s Note: Hard to tell which artist
Bradley had some significant splits in his game. He batted .299 at home and only .234 on the road. Against left-handed pitching, he hit .244 with only three homers. Against right-handed pitching, a .277 average with 23 homers. Now there’s talk that Andrew Benitendi could move from left field to center field in order to give Bradley a break against LHP from time to time. I found this extremely odd, since Benitendi also bats from the left side and hit .179 in 33 plate appearances last season, but Red Sox manager John Farrell seems to love the kid. Digging a little deeper, Bradley is playing under a one-year/$3.6 million contract. There’s probably not too much significance to that, but there is no long-term security and the possibility exists that Bradley presses or the Red Sox utilize him differently or trade him. I am trying to leave no stone unturned here. As with most players, Bradley has some warts and is not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination.
Now, let’s explore the Buxton side of things. He was Baseball America’s top prospect in 2013 and #2 prospect in both 2014 and 2015. He’s only 23 years old and we’ve been drooling over the power/speed combo for years. In two stints with the big club, though, he struggled mightily. The K% has been above 30% while the BB% has been below 7%. His hard contact % was under 27%, while his contact rate, in general, was below 70%. No bueno, but that upside is so tantalizing. We saw what he did the final month of 2016: .277/.340/.596 slash line with seven home runs and 18 RBI. It’s a small sample size for sure, but it’s an encouraging sign that he was able to get more comfortable and end the season on a high note. Have things clicked? That obviously remains to be seen, but he’s going with the 147th overall pick and this is when you want to go for upside. So, now you see my dilemma right?
After meditating on it a bit, Bradley is the way to go here. Before breaking out last season, Bradley struggled at the major league level for three years. His strikeout rate was close to 30% and he looked overmatched, prompting management to send him back to the minors for extended periods of time. With hard work and perseverance, Bradley was able to hone his craft and put together a full season of production. This will be Buxton’s third year with the big club. The one month of production at the end of last year does not instill that much confidence for me this year. It comes down to range of outcomes. For Buxton, I can see improvement, but I can’t see a breakout this year because he has so much maturing to do at the plate. Namely, the strikeout and contact rates. Due to his stellar defense, he will probably stay with the big club, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he got sent down to the minors if he does indeed struggle again. I don’t have that concern with Bradley. He’s an excellent defender, has improved his contact rates and plate discipline, and has emerged from the trials and tribulations. A process that Buxton is still undergoing. Will Bradley hit 26 home runs again? Probably not, but it’s within the range of outcomes. For this year, Bradley has both the higher ceiling and floor.