The KC Royals keep burning through their Cactus League competition this spring training. They recorded a dominant 14-5 win over the Chicago White Sox on March 8, with 12 runs scored in the first three innings. Royals fans did not see many offensive onslaughts in 2022, so the high-scoring offense in spring training is greatly appreciated. One of the key players in Wednesday's win was outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who made his Royals debut in the leadoff spot.
Bradley started the game with a first-pitch single, the first domino to fall in a five-run first inning by the Royals. He scored that same inning right before second baseman Michael Massey's grand slam. In the next inning, Bradley recorded an RBI double on the first pitch from Chicago pitcher Dylan Cease. He recorded two hits, two runs scored, and an RBI in only three at-bats. People say first impressions are everything, and Bradley made a great first impression on the Royals faithful.
KC Royals fans must be cautiously optimistic about outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 2023 outlook after one spring training game.
That good first impression starts Bradley's 2023 goals off on the right foot. The former All-Star has struggled primarily at the plate since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. When he met with reporters, he was candid about his modest goals in coming to Kansas City.
"“Make the team first. [I] kind of want to start with the basics and get back to playing some good baseball.”"- Jackie Bradley Jr.
He did that against the White Sox, that is for sure. But, in a game where nearly every Royals batter hit well, Bradley met the status quo. The team had 16 hits in the high-slugging game from 11 different players. Everyone had a good game, just some better than others. Fans should hold optimism at bay and let Bradley play in more spring training games before crowning him a major-league player in 2023.
Outside the stat line, there is nothing to judge Bradley. Both hits were first-pitch swings, giving fans no idea how his plate approach has changed. Has the pop in his bat returned? Bradley's average exit velocity has steadily declined since 2019, coinciding with his abysmal batting performances started. His .163 batting average in 2021 nearly equaled his 132 strikeouts, for goodness' sake. Bradley's bat was so bad the past three seasons he played for three separate teams. He has more work to do before anyone should believe he is back.
Let's give Bradley his flowers for a moment, though. He kept floating around MLB because of his excellent defense, which plays anywhere. In 2022, he ranked in the 90th percentile for outs above average, outfielder jump, and arm strength. The glove is still there, and he could play in the right or center field for most teams. For that reason, he won a Gold Glove, and his patrolling Kauffman Stadium would have been a dream come true years ago.
But now is not years ago. The Royals have some options in the outfield, but injuries are stacking up and necessitate the Royals signing Bradley. He is the emergency option for spring training, and nothing is for sure beyond March 30. Bradley is a different player with much to prove to the Royals if he wants to see MLB action in 2023.