BOSTON (CBS) -- Pitchers and catchers don't report to Fort Myers for another two weeks, but Jackie Bradley Jr. is already down at camp getting in some work for the Boston Red Sox.
Granted, he lives in the area, but Bradley is one of a number of players already at the Red Sox' facilities down South, getting an early jump on the 2014 season.
"I just figured I'd get out here and get to work. I want to get an early start to things," Bradley told WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Jonny Miller on Monday. "I'm just trying to go out there and compete for a spot and enjoy myself. Everyone is coming in and working, just getting ready for the season."
Last spring, Bradley was one of the hottest topics surrounding the team despite the fact he hadn't played a game above the Double-A level. He hit .419 during Boston's spring slate and not only earned a spot on the opening day roster, but was in the starting lineup when the Red Sox opened the season in New York.
But things didn't go so well for Boston's 2011 first round draft pick as he got a feel for the majors. Though he drove in a run in each of his first three MLB games and scored six runs during his first big-league stint, Bradley looked every bit like a rookie who hadn't played a game in Triple-A. He showed some solid base-running skills and made some nice plays in the outfield, but hit just .097 in 12 games in April. He struggled with inside fastballs, striking out 12 times in those 12 games, and was sent down to Pawtucket on April 18, where he stayed until a late-May call-up. That lasted just over a week before he was back in Pawtucket, and an early July call-up lasted just five days. He was recalled in early September when rosters expanded, but overall played in just 37 major league games, batting .189 (18-for-95) with 5 doubles, 10 RBIs, and 18 runs scored.
Bradley had a decent season with the PawSox, batting .275 with 26 doubles, 35 RBIs and 57 runs scored in 80 games, but fast forwarding to 2014, he likely won't be spending much time in Rhode Island. With Jacoby Ellsbury bolting to the New York Yankees this off-season, Bradley could slide right into the starting center field job, a spot that many envision him filling for many years to come.
But just because he was the darling of last spring, and likely will share the spotlight with Xander Bogaerts this spring, that doesn't mean the job is his.
"Is anything given to anybody? I don't think so," said the 23-year-old. "Everything is earned. To be in any situation, you earn the right to be there."
If he already sounds like a seasoned veteran, you can thank the plethora of veterans in the Boston locker room. And that brief taste of the big-league atmosphere from last year has him better prepared for a bigger role in 2014 -- whatever it may be.
"You get a lot of knowledge listening to those guys," he said of veterans like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. "(I learned) how to be a professional, learning from the veteran guys and learning their routines."
"The talent is there, the team camaraderie is there," he said. "It's very special to be in the locker room when everyone is focused on the same goal."
While there is that solid foundation of veterans in the locker room, Bradley is part of a youth movement the defending champions will undergo this season. Will Middlebrooks is expected to be back starting at third base, with rookie phenom Bogaerts likely taking over at shortstop (barring a late signing of veteran Stephen Drew). With Bradley, they form a trio of young stars that could be the future foundation of the franchise.
Such expectations, and the thirst to defend their latest World Series title, add plenty of pressure to those young stars. But they aren't focused on the outside chatter, just what they can handle on the field.
"I don't think we pay attention to the whole pressure thing. We just go out and play, and I think that's why we've been so successful throughout our careers," he said of his fellow young stars on Boston. "Just go out and play and let everybody else worry about the pressure."
"Hopefully we bring some energy," he said. "I'm not saying the team doesn't have any, but we'll be some of the younger guys on the team, which is something we take pride in as well. Contributing in any way we can and help out the veteran guys."
His briefs stints in 2013 and the successes and failures that went with them has Bradley better prepared for a major league job in 2014. He said watching the team win a title was a learning experience, but he learned much more during those April struggles. He isn't thinking about individual numbers, and has confidence that he can handle those inside fastballs that gave him issues, as long as he sticks with him game plan at the plate.
The 2014 season will be another one filled with challenges for Bradley, but that's what makes it so much fun.
"I feel like every day you go out there is a challenge, you just have to take it in stride," he said. "It's going to be exciting."
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