Expectations allow perception to be the false reality in our minds. Biases alter responses. Obvious endgames go unnoticed. Such allows for hand-wringing when Yandy Diaz appears to be ignored as a legitimate candidate to make the Opening Day 25-man roster during Spring Training. Hopeful thoughts to be aligned with the advanced hitting profile of Francisco Mejia or the defense of Bradley Zimmer in center field. However, the Cleveland Indians also are able to option rising-star Bobby Bradley to minor league camp in the second week of March with nary a notice by even the most fervent packs of Tribe denizens.1 As thoughts shift towards the beginning of the 2018 MLB season, a pause is warranted to shine a spotlight on a potential wild card player in what is expected to be a World Series contention run by the Indians.
An MLB team has to be loaded with talent in order for a Top 100 prospect to be overshadowed especially when he hits .391/.440/.565 in Spring Training while showing up 30 pounds slimmer and earning constant, fervent praise from the team’s future Hall of Fame manager. Terry Francona summed up Bradley’s spring to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian when the Indians assigned him back to minor league camp thusly “I think his energy’s better. His defense is better. His bat speed. It looks like it’s just easier for him to do things physically.”
The reported program helping Bradley achieve those results was OrangeTheory Fitness. The idea behind these fitness algorithms is based on heart-rate monitoring for post-exercise calorie burn maximization. The heart-rate based fitness program attempts to have people get into a target range for a specified period of time in order to increase metabolism (calorie burning) beyond the time spent in the class. It also allows people at varying levels of fitness to work out together as each will achieve their targets by pushing to different degrees.2
Actions are preferable measures of staunch support to mere words. When the Tribe signed Mike Napoli for Spring Training, Francona told Zack Meisel of the Athletic he specifically had the veteran mentor Bradley during camp. He had directed Napoli that “The more time you spend around Bobby Bradley, the better off he’s gonna be.” Bradley and Napoli were spotted together for much of the remainder of their springs.
As he enters his age 22 season, Bradley has continued his steady ascent through the Indians farm system. Bradley began his Indians tenure as the 2014 Arizona Rookie League MVP. In his first full season in the minors for the Single-A Lake County Captains, he was named the 2015 Lou Boudreau Award winner as the top organizational position player. Bradley has climbed a rung on the development ladder each year, which could put him in Triple-A Columbus during the 2018 season. His statistics have remained relatively consistent as they have oscillated just above or below his overall .261/.352/.499 career average numbers as his consistent approach has been one of his strengths as Shaun Larkin, 2015 Lake County Captains manager noted in a previous WFNY prospect profile of Bradley. “He is more than willing to do what is asked of him and he loves to compete.”
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 8, 2018
The Indians are not a team who will rush a prospect, especially one whom they believe will help prop open their next contention window as one of the team anchors. If the 2018 season goes as planned, then there will not be a need nor a desire to push Bradley to the forefront. However, because baseball, plans are rarely enacted without some measure of a detour. For example, the current Tribe outfield has already seen injuries to Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Bradley Zimmer with only the latter two expected to be ready for Opening Day. When Rob Refsnyder might factor into your 2018 planning, then it is not outrageous to consider a potential plus power bat sitting in the highest level of your minor league system making an impact by year’s end.
What is the set of circumstances needed in order to clear a path for Bradley to demonstrate his ability at the MLB level to garner enough confidence in trusting him during a postseason run, and is there any validity in expecting him to be able to take advantage of a said opportunity?
The answer to both could be Yonder Alonso as a 2018 injury3 to the new first baseman is the most obvious path to MLB for Bradley, and the newfound launch angle enthusiast is also a good comparison for expectations based on Bradley’s previous results.
Both Bradley and Alonso are power hitters who bat left-handed and throw right-handed as the 2018 Indians make a coincidental tribute to recently Baseball Hall of Fame elected Jim Thome. As such, there is an expectation of being able to rake against right-handed pitching, which both have shown they can do. Alonso does so with more on-base skills and has done so against MLB pitching, but Bradley’s numbers are stable throughout his progression. He has demonstrated good power and on-base ability though with high strikeout totals until he landed in Akron. A continuation of these numbers in Columbus will help put some pressure on the Tribe to see if his bat will play in Cleveland.
Alonso was atrocious against left-handed pitching in 2017, which matches his career expectations if any are worried about the small sample size. Here is where Bradley might- or might not- separate himself as a future projection. Until he reached Akron, Bradley exceeded his on-base skills and power on the reverse split. There was a significant fall-off last year, which could be due to the more advanced left-handed pitchers he faced. The long-term hope is Bradley figures out how to recapture his ability to hit both handednesses of pitcher. However, as the Alonso numbers show, he can still be a viable option for the Indians in the short-term even if he doesn’t figure out upper-level southpaws.
One item being masked by Bradley’s consistent churning of statistics is the level of work it takes to maintain them as he climbs the ladder. He has continually evolved each season and worked diligently in the offseason, which is shown in his more slender frame for 2018 or the decrease in strikeouts and increase in hitting the ball to all areas of the field in 2017.
Favorite Indians 1st Base prospect Bobby Bradley made strides in cutting his strikeouts in 2017, partially by decreasing his pull% by 9%. On the left Bradley's 2017, on the right 2016. pic.twitter.com/S6ou0Q78vK
— Corner of Hot Takes & Ontario Podcast (@CornerTakes) March 3, 2018
The most likely set of circumstances has Bobby Bradley remaining in the minor leagues between Akron and Columbus for the entirety of the 2018 season before making his MLB debut somewhere in the middle of 2019 when he can be a more permanent fixture to the Indians roster. Still, World Series runs are often made with contributions from unexpected heroes as baseball is a strange game of odd happenings. Bradley’s skills are intriguing enough to want to catch an early glimpse, and a little dreaming has him barreling up the ball when the Indians need him to the most…