Per reader request, a prospect retro for Milton Bradley
Milton Bradley was drafted by the Expos in the second round of the 1996 draft, out of high school in Los Angeles. He was considered extremely toolsy but somewhat raw, and there were concerns about his difficult family background. He hit .241/.320/.348 in 32 games of rookie ball, not overly impressive but not terrible, and he showed decent strike zone judgment. Considering his youth and tools, a Grade C+ would be appropriate.
Bradley moved up to the New York-Penn League in 1997, hitting .300/.352/.430 for Vermont, improving in all aspects of play. I didn't give grades to short-season players back then, but if I had I think I would have gone with a Grade B. I wrote that "if his strike zone judgment improves, he could be really good, but we'll have to wait and see."
Bradley split 1998 between Class A Cape Fear and Class A Jupiter, hitting .287/.369/.406 at the first stop (with 17 steals) and .302/.360/.470 at the second stop (with 13 steals). He was gaining command of the strike zone, increasing his power, running the bases more effectively, and exciting scouts with excellent glovework. He also got in trouble for punching an umpire in fall baseball, the first concrete indication of personality problems leaking through on the field. I gave him a Grade B+ in the '99 book.
1999 was a weird season for Bradley. He played great, hitting .329.391/.526 with 12 homers and 14 steals in 87 games in Double-A. But his temper was becoming an increasing problems. . .this time he got suspended for spitting gum on an umpire. Although his performance on the field continued to improve, he was having increasing trouble channeling his anger. . ."works hard, smart, but very angry about life" was the general impression. I gave him another B+ but noted that he had to find a way to deal with his emotional issues to truly thrive as a player, and as a person.
He started to turn things around in 2000. He brought his game forward to Triple-A, hitting .304/.385/.421 in 88 games. Promoted to the majors, he struggled, hitting just .221/.288/.325 in 42 games. But I remained optimistic about him, maintaining the B+ rating and projecting that he would post "average numbers" in 2000 but would improve steadily after that.
You know the story from here: weak numbers in Montreal, a trade to Cleveland, then Los Angeles, now Oakland, outstanding play at times, lots of injuries, continued problems with anger management and temper outbursts. Analyzing the psyche of a player from a distance is never easy. People can change, or at least grow up somewhat to the point that their problems no longer control them day-to-day. It does look like, from the outside, that Bradley has made progress. But it isn't easy, and it takes the right combination of self-effort and social support. Whether Bradley will have that or not, none of us know.
On the field, what he has done in the majors (when healthy) is about what you'd expect from him given his minor league track record.