FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With a little more than a week remaining in Spring Training, the most intriguing question mark regarding the Red Sox still has legs: Can outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. crack the Opening Day roster?
"We haven't made any decisions," said general manager Ben Cherington. "We've got spots still up for competition. Anybody who is in big league camp this late in spring has a chance to make the team. There's nobody that's in camp now that isn't somehow in the mix. Obviously we've got some paring down still to do, but those decisions are going to come as we get into next week. There's still two or three spots up for competition."
The reason why Boston's No. 2 prospect is now in the mix -- something that seemed inconceivable when camp opened -- is that the Red Sox will open the season without the left-handed bats of David Ortiz and Stephen Drew.
Given how highly touted Bradley, who is batting a team-leading .444, is and what he means to the club's future, the Red Sox will be careful to make sure the timing is right whenever he comes to the Majors for the first time.
"The standard for a really talented young player like him, someone who we feel strongly is going to be a really good everyday player in the big leagues at some point, the standard for a player like that should be that the opportunity in the big leagues is an everyday opportunity," Cherington said. "I don't know that it makes much sense for a guy like that to be on the team if he's not in an everyday [player] or close to an everyday role, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. There's competition, and we'll sort it out over the next week to 10 days or so."
Without question, Bradley has played his way on to the club's short-term radar with his performance in Grapefruit League action.
"It's hard to ignore what he's done this spring," said Cherington. "Every step in a player's career is another step. We knew he was a good player coming off last year. We knew he was going to get his first experience in a big league camp this year. Until it happens, we don't know how it's going to go. It's hard to ignore what he's done. Every time something like that happens, it's a next step, and it's one less thing he has to prove.
"It's been fun to watch. There's a number of young guys who have looked good this spring. It's been very encouraging from that standpoint."
There are some other factors to consider as well. Do the Red Sox want to start the clock on Bradley's service time this early, potentially making him a free agent after 2018 instead of '19?
"There's all sorts of factors to consider, but the simplest ones are probably the most important, and those are: Is there an everyday role? Is the player really ready for it? And what's our best team?" said Cherington. "If we use that to guide us, we'll more often than not make the right decision. We have to see how it plays out. Yeah, there are other factors, but those that I mentioned are the most important."