The current rendition of the Cleveland Indians could definitely use more power. In 2015, the Tribe finished 22nd in home runs, with only the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox beneath them from the DH-invigorated American League. Not a single player even reached 20 home runs — Carlos Santana led the team with 19. The team did finish middle of the MLB pack in slugging percentage (16th) and isolated power (19th) due to solid doubles-power from team leaders Michael Brantley (45) and Jason Kipnis (43). However, the Indians’ relative lack of power contributed to a mere 4.1 runs per game, which was 11th in the AL and 18th in MLB.
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While the 2016 Tribe must hope the short-term answer lies within Mike Napoli and a healthy Yan Gomes, the long-term answer for the Indians power outage might already be in the system. The Indians have a 19-year-old corner infielder who bats left-handed, fields right-handed, and has the country power of an ox at the plate. Bobby Bradley is not the second incarnation of Jim Thome or Russell Branyan, but he shares attributes with the Indians’ past power prospects.
Even with Bradley being a few years away from sharing his skills as a first baseman with the Indians, it is worth investigating whether he might one day be the player to make those sitting in the Right Field District perk up when he is at the plate. Jim Rickon, the Indians hitting coordinator, was quick to note why fans in all sections beyond the outfield wall better pay attention, saying, “Bobby’s ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark to all fields is one thing that we are very excited about.”
“I’m a down to earth country boy that loves God, his family, and baseball.”
Bradley grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi as a multi-sport athlete, playing basketball and football in addition to his baseball obsession. Even when he played baseball, his overall athleticism allowed him to play nearly everywhere on the field. He logged time at first base, third base, catcher, and outfield, and he pitched until ninth grade.
Bradley attended Harrison Central High School, the same alma mater of former Indian Matt Lawton, and the two developed a relationship. Lawton would mentor Bradley on the process and diligence required to become a professional baseball player during sessions of batting practice at Lawton’s house. The work paid off when the Indians selected Bradley in the third round of the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. With a scholarship from college baseball powerhouse LSU in hand, the decision would not seem easy, but the desire to play baseball rather than risk a potential redshirt season won out.
However, there is a major difference between having the talent and realizing it. Seeing results takes an incredible amount of focus and work. “The greatest areas of improvement came in terms of his understanding of preparation and practice intensity,” said Shaun Larkin, 2015 Lake County Captains manager. “He is more than willing to do what is asked of him and he loves to compete.”
In his first professional play in the short season of the 2014 Arizona Rookie League, Bradley’s advanced ability to hit a fastball helped him put up some dominant numbers. In a mere 155 at bats over 39 games, Bradley hit eight home runs, 13 doubles, four triples, and put together a triple-slash line of .361/.426/.652. With those numbers, Bradley won the 2014 Arizona League MVP award.
Big numbers in a rookie league are nice, but the best prospects shine through in a full season of MiLB against more advanced pitching, fielding, and managers utilizing shifts to take away surefire doubles and triples. Bradley was up to the challenge. In his first full season in MiLB for the Single A Lake County Captains, he was named the 2015 Lou Boudreau Award winner as the top organizational position player.
Bradley finished the 2015 season with 27 home runs, 15 doubles, four triples, and even stole three bases (on three attempts), while hitting .264/.357/.518. One of the best indicators for his future potential is that he hit one home run every 15 at bats, which nearly matched the home run every 14 at bats Jim Thome and Russell Branyan had in their respective age-19 seasons.
Bradley’s improvements at the plate came mostly through working on his approach. “He worked hard with hitting coach Larry Day last season at keeping his approach at the plate productive and it helped him to stay on the ball with power to all fields.” said Rickon, the Tribe’s hitting coordinator. Coaches, fans, and scouts all took notice. Larkin said, “The ball explodes off his bat and he captivated players, opposing managers/coaches, and fans of the MWL (Midwest League) this past year.” Those exploding balls off his bat ended up clearing the fence 27 times, even to the deepest parts of the ballparks. “On several occasions,” Larkin noted “he hit home runs to dead center field that most players are unable to do.”
Bradley also used his willingness dig in deep in working on his game to make great strides defensively. He reduced unnecessary movement of both his glove and body. He improved his footwork around the base and used his legs more to improve the arm action in his throwing motion. Bradley worked diligently throughout the season and off-season to improve his strength and agility, which also paid dividends in his improved defense.
Bradley still has a long road ahead of him before he obtains MLB readiness, let alone stardom, but all signs thus far are pointed in the positive direction.
Overall, his desire, work ethic, and confidence to continuously improve are directly associated with the Bible verse he has in the profile of his Twitter account. Philippians 4:13 states “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
When it comes down to it, life is pretty straightforward for Bradley. “I’m a down to earth country boy,” said Bradley, “that loves God, his family, and baseball.”