Amidst speculation regarding who might solidify a Cleveland Indians’ offense that has been one of the worst in baseball in 2019, a name that many have been clamoring for is the Columbus Clippers’ first baseman/designated hitter, Bobby Bradley.
The easy route to go with this piece at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario would be to climb up to the top of the nearest skyscraper and begin screaming, “BRING UP BRADLEY NOW!” There’s no doubt that Bradley has taken his power to another level over the past month. He’s belted 19 homers since May 4th (37 games) and had his fourth multi-home run game in 2019 on Sunday. He’s leading the International League in homers (22), and second (by one) in entire minor league system (Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker both have 23…and both are Astros…sigh…). The power surge has sent the Indians’ social media following into a frenzy…and let’s be honest, it’s for good reason.
Bradley has been locked in as a top ten (in many cases, top five) Indians’ prospect since he was drafted in the third round of the 2014 amateur draft out of Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, Mississippi. He’s even had a glimpse of national recognition as a top 100 prospect in both Baseball America (2016), and Major League Baseball’s MLB Pipeline rankings (2016 and 2017).
Over the course of his minor league career, Bradley has never hit less than 23 homers through a full season. While he has areas in need of refinement, he’s exactly what the Indians drafted: a power hitter through-and-through. But to some, the contact profile hasn’t improved, and over the course of the past year, has actually gotten worse.
Bradley’s hit profile, at its most simplistic form, can best be described as “Home Run or Bust.” In 2015, Bradley played a full season at Single A Lake County, and led the Midwest League with 27 homers, and finished second in strikeouts with 148. In 2016, Bradley played a full season at High A Lynchburg, and led the Carolina League with 29 homers, and finished second in strikeouts with 170. In 2017, Bradley played a full season at Double A Akron, and finished sixth in the league with 23 home runs, and finished tied for 10th in strikeouts with 122. In 2018, in only 97 games at Double A Akron, and finished second in the league with 24 home runs, and finished 21st in strikeouts with 105. This season, Bradley currently leads the International League with 22 homers, and is tied for lead with 87 strikeouts.
Sure, there has been a variance in his K% and BB% over the years, but since he’s been at Triple A Columbus, Bradley’s K% is sitting at 33%, with a BB% of only 8%. Both are career highs for Bradley for any particular level.
Bradley’s 22 homers this season are seven short of his career high 29 homers at High A Lynchburg in 2016…and it’s only June 17th. The Indians, in contrast, are currently 24th in the bigs with 83 home runs. The equation is pretty simple. A power hitting first baseman slugging a whole bunch of home runs at Triple A, plus a big league club not hitting for a whole bunch of home runs, equals BRING UP BRADLEY.
The root of the Bradley pros vs. cons is whether or not the home runs supersede the strikeouts, or the strikeouts supersede the power? That’s a hard call. With Bradley striking out at a 33% clip, it’s likely that the number will get worse with a jump to better pitching in the big leagues. It’s also likely that there’s a home run drop, especially as pitchers start to figure him out. So common sense would tell us that perhaps the call up wouldn’t be a good thing.
But then…when would be the right time? With social media screaming for Bradley to get a shot, is he really ready?
The Indians have methodically moved Bradley up through their system over the years. Bradley just turned 23, and already has a full season of games at the Triple A level under his belt. Again, using common sense, this is exactly what the Indians do with a prospect they value. They take their time, and season those players until they’re ready. With 95 games at Triple A, it feels like the seasoning is either over, or close to it.
But the enigma of Bobby Bradley is that he’s four years below the average age of the International League, yet doing exactly what he was drafted to do. And as a writer that’s covered the Indians, and in particular, the minors over the past 20 years, I’m not sure what their ultimate goal with Bradley is. The Indians as an organization are big fans of contact profile, and Bradley’s development prior to Triple A has shown slight improvement in that area. His K% prior to Triple A was below 25%, so why the big jump to 33% at Triple A? Have the Indians as an organization taken the bubble wrap off of Bradley and just unleashed the power, or are they working on something else thinking they had the year to fine tune everything? It’s easy to see a streak of power and pound your feet to bring him up, but do you want to throw a 23-year old into the fire a month or two before he’s really ready?
Is he really ready?
Perhaps the major reason for Bradley’s movement has been a system-wide issue developing corner power. Cleveland’s current first basemen, Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers both came to the Indians’ via a trade, and neither were considered first basemen first. As a matter of fact, the only first baseman of any consequence that came up strictly through the system as a Cleveland draftee, and a first baseman was Ryan Garko…
Ryan flipping Garko.
It seems as though the Indians have been looking for the perfect first base/DH for years, trading for or signing Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner, Edwin Encarnacion, Nick Swisher, Mike Napoli, Yonder Alonso, Matt LaPorta, and Casey Kotchman. Now I’d argue that drafting a player without position versatility is not necessarily smart, that moving a player like Bauers to first (or Santana back in the day) is a smart play. The problem is that the Indians aren’t exactly good at developing prototypical power hitters. While players like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have flirted with 40 home runs in a season, those two were definitively not considered power hitters at any point in the minors. Both worked their asses off at the big league level to get both stronger, and improve their contact rate. But let’s not get sidetracked. Bradley is a bit of a unicorn in the Indians system. He’s a first baseman/DH profile, who can mash. If he pans out at the big league level, he will certainly stand out as a victory in a system devout of corner-power hitting victories.
But whether you want to see them or not, there are several cons that have a varying degree of validity regarding a Bradley call-up.
Maybe he’s just not a Major League player to being with, but that’s really going to be hard to discern when you never give him a shot at the Major League level. It’s hard to call a player “Quad A,” without actually giving him a shot to succeed or fail.
Perhaps he’s not ready to be a big leaguer. He is only 23 in a league that averages 27. Maybe the Indians wanted to season him for the full year, and have some things in place that they need to see become habit.
Being a minor league baseball player is a tricky proposition with regards to social media. It’s rare that the organization gives away any details regarding the specificity of a player’s specific development, especially in the minors. Obviously, a player with the power of Bradley is going to be working on something to solidify his standing as a big league player. Where he is in that development is important. Certainly, a power surge of this nature, at the Triple A level, may throw caution to the wind. It may not.
The Bobby Bradley Comps
Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen a lot of comps to Bradley based on his statistics in the minors. When projecting forward, it’s always important to take a look at the trends that have brought a prospect to a certain point, and where they might go going forward. An easy way to do that is by utilizing comparable players. The problem with that is if you look long enough, you find players that go in every single direction.
There are other unique issues regarding comparisons, based on several different factors. The baseballs utilized in the minors are often different from year-to-year, and certainly leagues are different, not to mention quality of leagues on a yearly basis. The Carolina League has been a notorious pitching league over the years, because pitchers and hitters face each other so much, and park factors. This often shifts over time, depending on quality. If the league starts off strong, good pitchers and/or hitters find themselves moving on to Double A. If the league starts off weak, it often means an influx of talent comes in around late June, if not earlier. Obviously talented players should overcome that type of adversity, but it’s still tricky to find a player that m
With that said, my twitter timeline has been fueled by some really interesting Bradley comparisons. Once the season started, the first comps that I can remember were on the positive side via Twitter’s Hiram Boyd:
Hiram followed this up with another interesting comp.
I think we would all be content with Gallo or Howard.
Darrell then asked a bunch of us about Edwin.
Minor league Edwin was a much more versatile player than Bradley is currently, but EHC’s Mike Hattery countered with an interesting player. In our EHC banter, this comp seems to fit.
Branyan had an interesting career. He wasn’t perfect, but he did play in 14 different seasons, and had several above replacement level.
WFNY’s Michael Bode, mentions Jim Thome as the ceiling, and like Hattery, mentions Branyan, but like Hiram, thinks that Gallo is a good comp.
Jeff Ellis went back in time, and pulled out Mike Hessman. Props to Jeff for having Hessman somewhere stored away.
Mark Reynolds is another interesting comp, and reminds me a little of Branyan in many ways.
Jeff followed that up by adding Mark Trumbo and Reynolds as the ceiling for Bradley…
…before landing on Rob “Bomba” Deer.
The comp game is something that I outwardly state that “I hate.” The problem is that as much as I hate it, comparing players to those of the past is…well…fun? We all do it. Rarely do the comparisons pan out, because there are so many factors at play that are impossible to calculate. Take a guy like Lindor, who I’m sure nobody compared to a 40-homer guy. He just outworked everyone on a personal level, honing his skill-set during the offseason, under the helpful guidance of Matt Quataro.
Take Mike Clevinger, who has worked mercilessly hard at improving his game, utilizing Trevor Bauer and Driveline to help improve his velocity, his secondary offerings, and his location. There have been folks that bought into Clevinger long before he became the pitcher he is now, but none of those folks that bought into Clevinger knew the work that he’d put in over the past 12 years. Unless you know the player, the ethic, and those minute details, you can only play percentages. They rarely pan out the way you thought they would, unless you’re a fan of poaching…and I own that comment.
So, who’s my comp to Bobby Bradley? How about a poor man’s Kyle Schwarber? I just threw that out there to piss people off…;).
Should the Indians call up Bradley?
The key with Bradley is what you think his ceiling is, realizing that it probably doesn’t match what the Indians are thinking internally. I personally believe that the Indians do think highly of Bradley, based on how they’ve handled him in the system. The only think masking true progression is that the only player “in Bradley’s way” over the years has been Nellie Rodriguez, and Rodriguez is now back in Double A, so take that for what it’s worth.
While we can make all of the comparisons in the world to what Bradley will become down the line, right now, he’s a really young Triple A player, who is raking for whatever reason. I don’t think his development is done, but sometimes it’s okay to bring up a player for a few weeks, if they’re close, to catch some of that fire.
The Indians are in a really tricky place right now. They are ten games behind the Minnesota Twins in a “race” for the A.L. Central that they were “guaranteed” to win by nearly everyone you follow on Twitter. They are currently 1 1/2 games behind Texas and Boston for the Wild Card slot as well.
If the Indians are going to make a run prior to the trade deadline, the time is now to do it. So should they bring up Bradley? If you trust your manager, and you trust your hitting coach, you absolutely must bring him up. If he has the work ethic to be a great hitter, his progression won’t stop with a call-up.
Of course, he has to get playing time once that happens.
So bring up Bradley, DFA Leonys Martin, put Mercado in center full-time, and flex Jake Bauers a little more into left field. Let’s see what Bradley has, and influx the offense with a little power. This isn’t a lifetime indicator of what we think Bradley is, or will be, but just trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
If Bobby Bradley entered himself into the big league conversation early, credit to him as a baseball player. That’s the type of skillset that can’t be measured, until it’s tested by the best. Give Bradley a taste of the big leagues now, and worry about the comparisons later.