The player I was most excited about seeing in this year’s College World Series was South Carolina CF Jackie Bradley, Jr. He is having a breakout performance leading the Gamecocks, and although I’m not an expert, I can think of few prospects who impressed me more than Bradley. I tried to find a reason not to mention him with other super-elite 2011 prospects (Rendon, Purke, etc), but as South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said, “if you are going to be critical of Jackie Bradley, you have to go searching.”
Here is a great youtube video showing Bradley gunning down a runner in the Cape Code League. I stumbled upon it awhile back, and watched it several times thinking he could not have made that throw standing as far away as the video appears. But according to this report, Bradley’s throws from right field during Perfect Game’s scouting showcase were clocked at 101 mph (only faster velocity I could find was something that claimed Jarred Cosart hit 103). I’m not an expert on outfield throwing velocities (how fast are Ichiro’s throws?) and how much velocity should factor into grading an outfielder’s arm, but assuming the elite arm strength is legitimate, what makes Bradley’s defense special is he combines it with excellent speed and great instincts running down fly balls in CF. As this writer says, Bradley has “the range and speed of a CF and the arm of a RF.”
He can also hit. At the plate, Bradley is batting .374 this season with 13 home runs and 58 RBI’s. The strikeout/walk ratio is also impressive, as he’s leading his team with 39 bb’s as compared to 33 k’s. I have heard some reports describing him as a raw hitter, but judging from those statistics and the few at bats I have seen, plate discipline does not appear to be a serious problem. One question is whether he can hit for power. The collegiate power numbers are good, but although based upon a small sample size, he had zero hitting with wood bats in the cape league. Moreover, he is not a particularly big guy (5’10, 175), so I thought going into the CWS the reason for not ranking him high would be an inability to hit for power. But I have been really impressed with his swing and bat speed in the CWS, and it’s difficult to imagine the power will not arrive.
The final reason I like him is he is stepping up on the biggest stage in college baseball. We ranked him the #2 player in our 2011 College Draft Preview, and while I’m still not sure ranking him over Purke and Cole is not a product of not watching enough prospects, I’m more confident about that pick after watching him in the CWS.