Wrist injury complicates Bradley's Draft status

Wrist injury complicates Bradley's Draft status

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- University of South Carolina outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is anxious.

He's anxious because his team is in the thick of the NCAA Tournament. He's anxious because whether he'll ever play for the Gamecocks again remains in limbo due to a wrist injury. He's anxious to break out of a season-long offensive struggle.

And then of course, there is that whole First-Year Player Draft thing to worry about.

Bradley was projected before the 2011 season began to be a sure-fire first-round pick. But after his season had been seemingly cut short by a wrist injury suffered in April, coupled with a .259 batting average through Carolina's first 37 games, his Draft status had been thrown in the air.

Make no mistake about it: Bradley will almost certainly still be a high Draft pick. But where he ends up going may change. MLB.com ranks him as the 28th-best prospect in this year's Draft class, but does not have him being taken in the first round in the latest projections.

Draft Central

Bradley, whose adviser is Scott Boras, will likely find himself taken in the supplemental round. But that's more than fine for the Virginia native.

"I'm just happy to be in this situation," Bradley said. "It's a blessing that even with the injuries and my numbers still down, just to be able to be talked about in the first round or supplemental, it's all a blessing to me."

Bradley packs some surprising power despite his 5-foot-10 frame, having hit 30 home runs during his first two-plus seasons at USC. But his biggest strength comes in the outfield. He has the chance to be a solid center fielder despite his below-average speed, mostly due to his above-average arm and plus instincts.

"I feel like the outfield is easy to me. Everything out there kind of falls into place," Bradley said. "It wouldn't be a problem for me going from left across the whole outfield. You know how to catch the ball or you don't. They say I've got the range of a center fielder and the arm of a right fielder."

Some compare him to eight-time Gold Glove winner Jim Edmonds, but Bradley likes to think he's similar to Angels outfielder Torii Hunter.

"I just like the way he plays the game, the way he goes about himself, his hustle," Bradley said. "I can bring it back like he can as well."

Bradley exploded on to the scene last June as the Gamecocks tore through the College World Series en route to their first national championship, leading USC with a .345 (10-for-29) average with two homers and nine RBIs in Omaha. His CWS MVP performance carried over to Team USA, where he was third on the club in batting average with a .318 (21-for-66) clip.

"I'm the kind of player where what you see is what you get," Bradley said. "I did very well during that tournament and did very well on Team USA. I held my own out there."

Bradley's 2011 season ended eight months later after diving for a ball and damaging his wrist. He has since had surgery to repair the ligaments, but whether he returns to the Gamecocks this year remains to be seen.

"I'm getting all of my range of motion back. I'm rehabbing and I'm working hard," he said. "I know they didn't want me to swing the bat for another few more weeks. They just want me to take it slow to make sure everything has healed properly. I have a feeling that I'm ahead of schedule, like usual with some of my previous injuries."

His surprisingly low batting average has been a concern this year as well, since he hit a combined .358 during his first two seasons at USC. That's something he's been trying to correct, as he knows that he may try to do too much sometimes for his team.

"If I wouldn't have been injured, I may have been able to pull up those numbers. I could have gotten hot at any moment," Bradley said. "For any team looking to draft me, they know what I can do. I've played at the highest level and competed for the past two-three years. If you want to judge me on one particular year, then we'll see what happens."

Bradley didn't specify what particular number he's hoping for come Draft day, but did note that he wants it to be from a club that looks beyond just his 2011 numbers.

"I just want the team that really wants me for me and they really trust and have faith in me because they know what I can do," Bradley said. "I don't want somebody to say, 'Is he on a discount because he was injured and had a bad year?' What about all the other years that you've seen me? You know what I can do."

Numbers aside, Bradley says he's looking forward to knowing what his future holds come June 6. He plans on watching the selection show with his family at a local Columbia restaurant and hopes to have teammates in attendance provided the Gamecocks aren't playing.

"I think this is going to be special," Bradley said. "It's going to surprise a lot of people. I'm glad to be here and if things don't work out, I can always come back home to South Carolina."

Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.