Image: Christopher Hanewinckel – USA Today Sports
When you think about College Baseball, one of the first schools that comes to mind is Vanderbilt. Throughout recent history, many great prospects from Vanderbilt University have made a big impact at the major league level. 16 Commodores played in MLB this year, which is the most out of any college.
With players like Dansby Swanson, Walker Buehler, Bryan Reynolds, Kyle Wright, and more flourishing in the MLB, there is no question that legendary coach Tim Corbin has done an excellent job developing his players.
As for current Commodores, one name to look out for in the future is Enrique Bradfield Jr. MLB.com ranks Bradfield Jr. as the #6 college prospect for the MLB Draft next June. However, I think that #6 is too low when considering how talented of a ball player he is, and how much potential he has to succeed at the professional level.
An apt player comparison would definitely be Kenny Lofton. They both are around the same height and weight (Bradfield Jr: 6’1”, 160 lbs; Lofton: 6′ 0”, 180lbs), both bat lefty and throw lefty, and both have incredible speed. Like Lofton, Bradfield Jr. could be an elite-level lead off hitter who gets lots of hits and stolen bases, and really set the tone for the offense, while at the same time showing off the glove in the outfield.
The 20 year old from Pembroke Pines, Florida is entering his junior year at Vanderbilt, and plans to have another exceptional season. In his freshman year, Enrique was SEC Freshman of the Year, a consensus All-American, All-SEC first team, and was named to the ABCA/Rawlings Division I Gold Glove Team. He hit for a .336/.451/.414 triple slash, and was successful on 46 out of 52 stolen base attempts, which converts to an 88% success rate.
Bradfield Jr. followed up his great freshmen year with an incredible sophomore year. He repeated many of the accolades from his first year, and improved to being 100% successful on stolen base attempts, stealing 46 bags. The fact that he was not thrown out once the whole season is truly remarkable and it shows how he is an incredibly talented base runner, not to mention a better season with his bat.
It is clear that Bradfield Jr.’s unbelievable speed is what makes him an intriguing MLB prospect. MLB Pipeline gave Bradfield Jr. an 80/80 run grade, which is a very rare thing to see. According to Perfect Game, Enrique ran a 6.26 60-yard dash out of high school. Bradfield’s speed is on-par or even faster than those like Trea Turner.
On top of this, Enrique is an elite contact hitter, and when he puts the ball on the ground it is hard for the defense to stop him from getting on base because of his speed. Bradfield Jr. has also proven himself to be elite on the defensive side, using his speed to cover ground efficiently in center field.
Just watch this clip to see how fast Bradfield Jr. is, and how his speed changes the game:
Though many question his ability to hit for power, say how he lacks muscle, and believe he is just too “weak” to be a MLB-level outfielder, people have to consider what his true role for a ball-club will be. Batting leadoff, or in the eight or nine hole, Bradfield Jr.’s role will be to put the ball in play, use his speed to steal bags and create more opportunities for extra base hits, and score lots of runs. His role is not to hit 40 home runs a year, but to utilize his unique skillset
I think that a flaw exists in MLB in that people automatically disregard or ignore a player if they do not hit for power. Baseball is more than just mashing dingers. MLB teams have to realize that adding a player like Bradfield Jr. will make a lineup more dangerous. When guys get on base, good things are just bound to happen.
You can’t win your division hitting only solo homers, even if power is the way the game is trending. Your team is most dangerous offensively when you have an assembly line of guys that can get on base, and especially with guys that easily get into scoring position, and no one can argue against that. A homogeneous lineup is not only boring, but can lead to streaky offense.
Small-ball style baseball seems to be dying out for teams that afford big bats, but when elite prospects like Bradfield Jr. come around, it is reasonable to reconsider turning back the clock. When he steps in the box, defenses panic because they know that wherever he hits the ball, there is a high probability of him getting on base, and a high probability of him being a Rickey Henderson-level pest on the basepaths.
Enrique would benefit every single MLB team, because he is exactly what you want from a leadoff hitter. He can turn singles into doubles, he can turn doubles into triples, and he can steal on any catcher. He creates chaos.
This Spring, expect to see another great year from Bradfield Jr. in Nashville. Expect to see many stolen bases, lots of scrappy hitting, and some highlight plays in the outfield. Expect to hear his name called early at the 2023 MLB Draft.