Can I interest you in a speedy centerfielder?
With the MLB amateur draft just over a month away, we continue looking at some potential targets for the Kansas City Royals. The Royals will have the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. Today we’ll look at a center fielder that has been well known to scouts since he was a high school freshman: Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield Jr.
Bradfield played high school ball at American Heritage High School, the same Florida school where Eric Hosmer played over a decade prior. Bradfield enjoyed a decorated prep career, earning All-American honors multiple times and leading American Heritage to back-to-back 6A District Championships in 2018 and 2019. He was a fairly well-regarded prep prospect but went undrafted in the truncated 2020 draft largely due to a strong commitment to Vanderbilt.
It is rare for freshmen to start on opening day for an SEC team, especially for a defending national champion. But that is exactly what Bradfield did for Vanderbilt, hitting eighth and reaching base thrice in a win over Wright State. He would go on to an immensely successful 2021 season, cementing the leadoff spot as the Commodores made a run all the way to the College World Series Finals. Bradfield finished the season with a batting line of .336/.451/.414 with more walks (45) than strikeouts (42). He led the nation with 47 stolen bases with a tidy 88.7% success rate. His efforts earned him SEC Freshman of the Year, and Bradfield was a consensus All-American.
Entering 2022, Bradfield held down the leadoff spot for a Vanderbilt team that expected to make another run to the College World Series. He was characteristically excellent as he didn’t have a game in which he failed to reach base until April 3, when Vandy squared off with a historically good Tennessee team. The Commodores would end up falling to Oregon State in Regionals, but Bradfield had a strong postseason, going 7-21 with a homer and four walks in Tournament play. The biggest step he took in 2022 was an increase in power production as Bradfield bumped his ISO from .078 to .181. He increased his homer total from one as a freshman to eight as a sophomore while maintaining his sparkling walk-to-strikeout rate (41-40). Most impressively, he went a perfect 46-for-46 on stolen base attempts. Overall, Bradfield finished 2022 hitting .317/.415/.498. He was once again a consensus All-American. He played briefly in the Cape Cod League that summer before joining the Collegiate National Team for the rest of the summer.
Bradfield has been very streaky in 2023. He got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, not recording his first multi-hit game until the ninth game of the season and not recording an extra base hit until the eleventh. He caught fire when conference play began but suffered another cold stretch late in the season. As a result, his numbers are down a bit headed into the NCAA Tournament, slashing .282/.419/.436. He’s mostly maintained his power (.155 ISO) and patience (45 walks to 38 strikeouts), but his BABIP has dropped to a career low .311. Given his speed and the nature of college defenses, that mark should be higher. More unusually, he has been both less aggressive and less efficient on the bases in 2023. After stealing 93 bases in 99 tries over his first two seasons, he has gone 37 of 44 this year.
Entering 2023, Bradfield was a top-ten prospect according to most publications. However, there are offensive questions that Bradfield has not answered this spring, causing him to drop on some lists. Here are his rankings as of this writing:
MLB Pipeline: 16
Prospects Live: 15
Keith Law ($): 12
Kiley McDaniel ($): 10
Baseball America ($): 17
The first thing that stands out with Bradfield is the speed. He is perhaps the fastest player in the draft class – a legit 80-grade runner. He puts immense pressure on pitchers as he’s a threat to go every time he’s on base. Bradfield has also been incredibly efficient with his steals, stealing 130 bases and only being caught 13 times. That’s a sparkling 90.9% success rate.
Enrique Bradfield is a WEAPON— 11Point7: The College Baseball Podcast (@11point7) February 26, 2022
Enrique Bradfield Jr. is so fast he stole home and the pitcher didn’t even realize what was happening pic.twitter.com/KYh1iamNlQ— Rally Caps: A College Baseball Podcast (@RallyCaps_Pod) May 11, 2022
Enrique Bradfield record breaking 97th career stolen base @VandyBoys— Gerry DeFilippo (@Challenger_ST) February 27, 2023
1. The arm involvement to initiate torso rotation is elite
2. Back side actually sets back MORE to get even better push angle
3. Back side drives center of mass simultaneously w/ torso rotation
Elite moves pic.twitter.com/NrNzSSO3nk
He puts that speed to good use in the field. Bradfield gets excellent reads in the outfield and combining that with his top-of-the-scale speed gives him incredible range. The arm isn’t especially strong, but his ability to quickly reach balls in play helps offset that. Bradfield is as sure a bet to stick as a plus defensive center fielder as there is in this draft class. I would now like to take a moment to admire Bradfield’s defense and imagine that guy patrolling center field in Kauffman Stadium.
This is was a badass play from Enrique Bradfield Jr. last night. Crazy impressive break off the bat and absurd athleticism to correct himself and snag the liner out of the air. pic.twitter.com/9hM4xNaVSN— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) March 30, 2022
The bat is the real question here. Bradfield uses a flat, line-drive oriented swing to spray the ball all over the field. He puts the bat on the ball frequently with a K-rate in college below 14%, and that mark is 13.3% this season. The power is his shortcoming. While he’s got some sneaky pop to the pull side – hence the 14 homers over the last two seasons – it’s not a plus tool and it’s fair to question how it will translate to wood bats. Bradfield is not a big guy so he could conceivably put on some more size and add some power, but it will never be a strength for him.
The lack of power is offset somewhat by an advanced understanding of the strike zone. Despite not being a power threat, Bradfield has managed a 16.1% walk rate in college. He rarely ever swings outside of the zone and consistently puts together tough plate appearances.
I think I would get motion sickness if I ran as fast as Enrique Bradfield Jr. The good news for me though, is that I don’t think I’ll be running that fast anytime soon pic.twitter.com/evOwe0xc41— Stephen Schoch (@bigdonkey47) May 26, 2023
Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield hits a 2-run triple for Team USA because of course he did— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) July 10, 2022
With his combination of pitch selection, speed, and contact skills, Bradfield is a fascinating prospect. Unlike many other Royals prospects, the development task here will have less to do with refining the approach as retooling the mechanics. Per Keith Law:
His swing needs a real overhaul, and he needs to stop bunting all the time, as he’s just not hitting anywhere near as well as he should…someone has to clean up his swing and get him to drive the ball more to make him a regular or better.
Given his elite glove and the new rules surrounding stolen bases, Bradfield is a high-probability big leaguer; Jarrod Dyson strikes me as an excellent comp for his floor. Whether he can be a starter comes down to whether a minor league development staff can rework his swing to take advantage of an already tidy approach. The best-case scenario here is probably a league average or slightly better hitter that’s an annual threat to steal 60 bases and win a Gold Glove in center field. Given that it’s unclear who the center fielder of the future is in Kansas City, should the Royals look to answer that question in this draft, Bradfield is the guy. Additionally, if the Royals are looking to go underslot with their first pick and spread their money around more, Bradfield likely fits that criterion as well.