Jackie Bradley Jr. & Aaron Hicks: Deep League Wire

Today’s deep league wire features a pair of fresh outfielder call-ups. Both were one-time promising prospects, but have struggled at the big league level. Are these two post-hype sleepers?

Jackie Bradley Jr. | OF BOS | CBS 4% Owned

Bradley was summoned from Triple-A on Sunday, which was odd timing considering that Shane Victorino, the team’s incumbent starting right fielder, was activated from the disabled list on Monday. Apparently the two will split time, but as Bradley is a lefty, you would think he earns the lion’s share of at-bats against right-handers. Bradley has had just two stints with the Red Sox, but because they have resulted in a career .249 wOBA, he has been perceived as a bust. But remember, that has come in just 530 plate appearances. Plenty of hitters flop in their first full season. Yeah, this came over two years, but his career has essentially amounted to a full season of playing time.

Bradley’s problem has been strikeouts. He has whiffed at a 28.6% career rate, though his SwStk% haven’t been that significantly above the league average. And it’s not like he has swung far less than the average hitter. If he had, it would explain a higher walk and strikeout rate as he would likely be victimized by the called strike. That’s not happening here. So at first glance, it seems as if maybe there was just some bad luck involved, whether if was sequencing or something else, that led to such a poor strikeout rate.

Given his mediocre power, Bradley can’t afford to strike out so often. But perhaps he’s making progress. After striking out at the Triple-A level at least 20% of the time during his first two tries there, he has reduced that mark to just 14% this year. Of course, it was his third tour of duty there so you better expect improvement! But it’s still encouraging. Unfortunately, the strong walk rates he had posted earlier in his minor league career have vanished. At least back then, he would have gained value in OBP leagues. Now, his value is entirely dependent on his strikeout rate and BABIP.

So I have talked a lot of negative here, yet his named as typed as a recommendation. The positives — he has some speed, evidenced by his 10 Major League steals in 10 tries, and he’s not a zero in power. He almost has been during his short time with the Red Sox (.083 ISO), but he’s been better on the power front in the minors. Also working in his favor is how fabulous he was defensively in center field in 2014. If he was good in center, you’d assume he’d perform well in right. So that should help keep him in the lineup even if he’s not hitting so well.

There’s little hope for a breakout here and his .400 Triple-A wOBA was inflated by a .398 BABIP and came with little power. But he’ll get some playing time, has some speed, a touch of power, and is in what should be a good lineup. It makes him a respectable pickup in deeper mixed and AL-Only leagues.

Aaron Hicks | OF MIN | 2% Owned

Like Bradley, Hicks has hit his way out of his team’s lineup and starting center fielder slot. He lost the job this spring training to Jordan Schafer, but luckily for Hicks, Schafer sports a pathetic .230 wOBA and is striking out over 30% of the time. So Hicks has been recalled and he already started in center field last night. Unfortunately, the corresponding roster move related to Shane Robinson, who will be back with the club shortly. So there remains the possibility that Hicks will be back in the minors in short order, making this recommendation look silly.

But I think Hicks deserves another shot consider the dearth of alternatives in Minnesota. Like Bradley, his MLB career spans several years and totals about a full-season’s worth of plate appearances. He’s shown more power and speed than Bradley though, but has still posted just a .276 wOBA. He has also struggled with strikeouts and a low BABIP, but unlike Bradley, has performed poorly in center field according to UZR. During his time in Triple-A this season, he has continued to show excellent plate discipline, and while the patience has carried over, the solid strikeout rate has yet to. Why? Because he just doesn’t swing. It’s an issue with being far too passive, as his SwStk% is below the league average. The passiveness has surely boosted his walk rate, so if fixing him includes convincing him to become more aggressive, that will result in both a decline in strikeout rate and walk rate.

Hicks has both more power and more speed than Bradley. But his playing time opportunity is much cloudier at the moment. He also plays in a worse lineup and in a worse ballpark. That said, I do think he has much better breakout potential and if I knew he would take over every day center field duties, would prefer him to Bradley.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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After watching so much of Bradley, and being tricked into drafting him last year based on the minors OBP, and middling power…It appears as though his approach has changed (thank Jobu), because his sublime defense is really only matched by lagares.