MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

JBJ has earned his place on AL All-Star team

JBJ has earned his place on AL All-Star team

Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of the coolest things to happen in baseball this season. So is that why he deserves a spot on the American League All-Star team?

Actually, yes.

Bradley's 29-game hitting streak is one of those remarkable accomplishments that captivated us on a variety of levels, and isn't that what the All-Star Game is all about?

Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for JBJ and other #ASGWorthy players

It's a gathering of the sport's best players. Bradley absolutely qualifies in this area. More on that later. It's also a time to celebrate achievements that grabbed our attention and drew us to ballparks, televisions, etc.

This season we've had the Cubs roaring out of the gate and Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta performing at amazingly high levels. We've also had David Ortiz, ageless and amazing in what he says will be his final season.

Still, nothing has been quite as compelling as the daily tracking of Bradley's hitting streak -- tied for fourth-longest in Red Sox history and the longest in the Majors since Dan Uggla's 33-game streak in 2011.

Bradley ties Damon with 29-gamer

Hitting streaks have been mythologized since Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games in 1941. That number -- 56 -- is sacred to baseball fans.

In the 75 years since, no one has really gotten close. Pete Rose made a nice run in 1978 with a 44-game streak, and Paul Molitor got to 39 in 1987.

To watch DiMaggio's streak go essentially unchallenged for six decades is a tribute to the accomplishment in itself.

That Bradley would be the latest to make a run at Joe D. is also remarkable in itself. When the 2015 All-Star Game was played in Cincinnati, Bradley was back in the Minors, trying to figure things out.

At the time his batting average was .133. After parts of three Major League seasons -- 178 games and 509 at-bats in all -- his career batting average was .193. Back then the Red Sox didn't know if he'd ever be the player they projected him to be when they made him the 40th overall pick of the 2011 Draft.

Bradley quickly rose to the top of their prospects list, as they saw a player with a quick bat, speed and great defensive instincts. He debuted in 2013, a bit more than two years after his final game at the University of South Carolina.

And then ... He didn't hit.

In 423 plate appearances in 2014, he batted .198. And when he started slowly last season, there was reason to wonder if he'd ever hit.

The thing is, his defense was so good in center that the Red Sox knew he could have an impact if he contributed just a little offense.

But he couldn't hit that poorly and still play.

Finally, down the stretch last season, the Red Sox caught a glimpse of what Bradley could be. During one 28-game stretch, he batted .424.

He then won the spring competition for center field, prompting Red Sox manager John Farrell to say, "Jackie is our center fielder. He's going to get regular at-bats."

Bradley, 26, is a cautionary tale that young players don't develop at the same pace. The Red Sox stuck with him because they saw a skill set that was off the charts and believed he eventually would put things together.

If you don't buy into a 29-game hitting streak being worth an spot on the AL All-Star team, Bradley has other bases covered.

Among AL outfielders, he's first in batting average (.337) and OPS (1.003); second in OBP (.404) and doubles (13); tied for first in triples (four), RBIs (35) and hits (58); and tied for 13th in home runs (eight).

At least three other Red Sox players -- Ortiz, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts -- have solid All-Star credentials. But there has to be a spot for Bradley.

Why the transformation? Scouts who have watched him say that rather than any dramatic mechanical adjustment, he simply seems more comfortable and more patient at the plate. He's spraying the ball around the field, with around a third of his hits going to the opposite field.

As for Bradley, he seems reluctant to delve too deeply into why. Instead he's making the whole thing look ridiculously easy, hitting .415 during the streak.

Plenty of other players will enjoy their trip to San Diego next month. Few will have taken a more improbable ride.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.