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Bradley still making his case for roster spot

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Manager John Farrell had a little smile Sunday morning when he was asked if outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.'s left-handed bat might make sense if the Red Sox head north without Stephen Drew and David Ortiz.

"That's a hell of a question," Farrell said. "We've got two weeks to determine that."

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Bradley, who is ranked Boston's No. 2 prospect by MLB.com, went 0-for-1 on Sunday in a 5-1 Red Sox win over the Rays at JetBlue Park, dropping his Grapefruit League average to .444 (16-for-36).

Bradley said before the game that the club hasn't talked to him about the possibility of making the team out of camp, so he's heard about it instead from social media and reporters. Either way, the clamor is omnipresent.

"Just keep playing," Bradley said of the attention. "You can see it, but you don't have to have a reaction to it. Just keep playing, doing what you normally do. This is pretty much what I do.

"Most rookies, you come in here and you want to make a good impression just to leave something to think about. I just hope I did that with my style of play, the hustling, just doing the small things. Even if I wasn't hitting so well, I'd still want them to know I'm going to be the same ballplayer if I wasn't hitting well and I'm going to still give it my 100 percent effort and I'm going to hustle and I'm going to learn."

Bradley acknowledged that the toughness of the pitching has increased. The level of pitching will only continue to get tougher as starters go longer into games. How Bradley responds in the next two weeks could well be the determining factor.

"The one thing we've always focused on is when he gets to face pitchers that are getting right up against the start of the season, as their stuff has sharpened, facing quality guys -- whether it's in the earlier part of the game, deeper in the game," said Farrell. "That decision, that situation is ongoing. Ultimately, a decision is in the near future here."

With any player who has never been to the Majors, there are roster and free-agency implications with bringing Bradley aboard.

The first step in bringing Bradley up to the Majors would be making space on the 40-man roster. The Sox would have to clear a spot just the same if they took, say, Ryan Sweeney or Mitch Maier or Lyle Overbay or any other non-roster invitee.

That's not a significant issue.

"He's not on the roster right now," Farrell said. "He'd have to be added obviously. What the countermove to that would be would be factored into this."

Then comes the matter of service time. If Bradley starts the season on the 25-man roster and sticks around, he could become a free agent after the 2018 season. The more likely scenario is he'll become a free agent after the 2019 season.

Here's the breakdown:

• If Bradley is on the Opening Day roster and is never optioned to the Minors for at least 20 days, he'll become a free agent after the 2018 season.

• If Bradley is on the Opening Day roster, the Red Sox can prolong his free agency to after 2019 at the earliest if at any point they option him to the Minors for at least 20 days.

• If Bradley comes up on April 12 or later, he won't hit free agency until after 2019 at the earliest.

"We have a whole year to determine how that service time would factor in going forward," Farrell said, a nod to the possibility of sending Bradley down for 20 days at some point. "Can't deny the fact he's having a hell of a Spring Training. The bottom line thing would be -- when any young player, whether it's Jackie or any young position player -- when they come to the big leagues, you want to be sure they get regular at-bats. If those are there, that becomes part of the equation. Most importantly, he's doing whatever he can to impact the decision."

There's one last thing for the Sox to consider when bringing Bradley up, but like the 40-man roster space, it's a secondary concern. Promoting Bradley before the middle of the season and keeping him around basically guarantees he'll get an extra year of arbitration as a Super Two player. All that means is if Bradley's good enough to stick around, he'll get a chance to go to arbitration and get a raise after two big league seasons instead of three.

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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