Editoral Note: We are in the process of retooling our staff here on Seedlings to Stars and as a result of that, you’ve no doubt noticed a drop off in the amount of content being published on our little slice of the FanSided network. I will have more on our staffing situation in the coming days, but until then I hope you will enjoy the following guest post that was contributed by Call to the Pen Staff Writer, Doug Wachter. If you enjoy reading Doug’s work, I encourage you to follow him on Twitter (@saberbythebay) and check out his author archive on CttP.
Now I gladly turn things over to Doug …
Last Tuesday, May 8, I made the 160-mile trek down from Ann Arbor to watch the South Bend Silver Hawks, the low-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, host the Dodgers’ low-A affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons. On the bump for South Bend was D’Backs first-rounder and seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, Archie Bradley. Though a couple lower-tier prospects keep me from stating unequivocally that Bradley was the only player of interest in the game, Bradley was clearly the main attraction and his start was certainly worth the drive.
Only 19, Bradley seems to be ticketed for a future near the top of a strong D’Backs rotation, and at 6’4”, 225 lbs, he already looks the part. He starred in both baseball and football at Broken Arrow High School in Broken Arrow, OK, and was committed to play quarterback and pitch at the University of Oklahoma. That was until Arizona drafted him and gave him a hefty $5M signing bonus to convince him to begin his professional baseball career. That bonus could end up looking like a steal as he and the Orioles Dylan Bundy, the 3rd overall pick in the 2011 draft, have generated their share of buzz from last year’s class.
Bradley throws a fastball with some late tailing action, a low-80s power curve, and is also developing a changeup. I’ve read scouting reports that place his fastball velocity range up to 98 MPH, but Bradley didn’t have his best stuff when I saw him, and wasn’t able to reach back for more than 96 MPH all night. I also only saw his changeup in action on one occasion, as he didn’t need it in high school and continues to be able to mow down single-A hitters with just his fastball and curveball. As a result his change has a ways to go before it’s developed into a useable third pitch.
Bradley didn’t seem to have his best feel or velocity for his fastball, and as a result his start was by far the worst of his professional career. In a season-low 4 innings, Bradley gave up 5 runs (3 earned), both season-highs, including his first round-tripper allowed as a pro. Although the late action on his fastball usually induces a large number of ground balls when hitters do make contact, Bradley allowed more fly balls than grounders in this outing. While it might seem disappointing to see him struggle, I was very intrigued to watch him respond to adversity for essentially the first time since being drafted. One major aspect of Bradley’s development that could determine his long-term success is his ability to command the ball within the strike zone. His control still left something to be desired, as along with two walks Bradley hit a batter and uncorked 4 wild pitches. However, I came away somewhat impressed with his command in one respect – despite his inability finding a feel for any of his pitches Bradley rarely made a bad mistake. While he had a tough time finding the glove with his fastball, Bradley missed his targets low and off the plate, where he’s unlikely to get hurt, rather than leaving balls up in the zone for opposing hitters to drive. While his long, lanky frame is likely one factor at the root of his control issues, Bradley repeats his delivery effectively and as he matures it’s not hard to imagine him popping the glove with a little more consistency.
Bradley also impressed me with his stamina, although a look at the box score might suggest otherwise. Bradley gave up each of his five runs in his last two innings, but didn’t exactly get off to a steady start, as he hit a batter, gave up a walk, and gave up a wild pitch before inducing a fly ball with runners on second and third to end the top of the inning. While Bradley’s wild pitches are partially an indicator of his control issues, South Bend catcher Tyson Van Winkle was also woefully under prepared to catch Archie’s nasty stuff and that is always a consideration when evaluating top pitching prospects in the low minors.
In the second, Bradley got two flyouts and then induced a ground ball to third, but his third baseman threw the ball away to extend the inning. Van Winkle then turned around a 93 MPH fastball from Bradley to gun the runner stealing second and end the Loons’ half of the inning. Great Lakes nine-hole hitter Pedro Guerrero, who had been up when Van Winkle caught the runner stealing, resumed his at-bat to start the third and ran the count to 3-2 before depositing Bradley’s 93 MPH fastball in the seats. Bradley got two strikeouts, gave up a single and a double to put runners in scoring position, and then struck out Loons left fielder Scott Schebler on a nasty 81 MPH curve that neither Schebler or Van Winkle could handle. Schebler reached first as Van Winkle’s hurried throw went wide of the base, scoring both the runners on second and third. Bradley then got a ground ball to finally end the inning.
In the fourth, Bradley started to tire, having pitched to 15 batters in his first three inefficient innings while getting little help from the defenders behind him. After inducing a grounder, Bradley walked a hitter, then threw a wild pitch to move the runner to second. After a single, the fourth and final hit Bradley allowed, brought home the Loons’ fourth run to tie the game, Bradley threw two more wild pitches to move the runner to third. An RBI ground ball gave the Loons their first lead of the game before Bradley gave up a hard-hit fly ball to left to end the Loons’ frame and his night. My radar gun had Bradley sitting at 92-94 for most of the night, but he hit 95 and even reached back for 96 when he got into trouble in the fourth, an impressive testament to his stamina. That said, he was getting hit harder late in the start, as his control started to wane, especially with his curve.
Despite the sloppy final line, it was easy to understand the hype surrounding Bradley. Even when he’s not on his best game, he’s able to overpower hitters despite being among the youngest players in his league. He has the tools to dominate hitters if he can consistently harness his fastball and curve, and the development of his changeup could make him an absolute beast as he matures and prepares for what should be a long and successful big-league career.
Diamondbacks fans have to be excited about the team’s future, especially on the mound. Already in the majors leading the rotation are Ian Kennedy and (currently injured) Daniel Hudson, both among the best young starters in the league, as well as offseason acquisition Trevor Cahill. They’ll soon be joined by a pair of top prospects. Tyler Skaggs, a 2009 high school draftee currently holdhing his own in double-A as a 20 year old and 2011 draftee and Golden Spikes Award winner Trevor Bauer. Of course Bauer needs little introduction after he signed quickly and began his professional career with three outings – that encompassed 9.0 innings – at high-A so impressive that he was bumped up to double-A for his last four turns of the year. Trevor is back in AA this year and is currently tearing it up in the Mobile Bay Bears rotation as a teammate of Skaggs. Both Skaggs and Bauer entered the season with plenty of fanfare as Tyler was named the 13th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and Trevor was tagged as the 9th best prospect in the game.
They could both reach Arizona by the end of 2012, and without any major hiccups in his development, Bradley could be close behind. If he gets back on track after last week’s start and continues to impress in South Bend, Archie could earn a promotion to high-A this year. That would put him on a potential track to start the 2013 season at double-A and earn a cup of coffee at the end of next season. This would be a very aggressive schedule, however.
While I’m as excited as anyone to see Bradley make a big-league impact, the Diamondbacks will likely take care with their prize prospect and allow him to take his time to progress through the team’s system. If he can lock in his command, though, Bradley has the tools to force the issue. And if he can slot in as the last piece of the puzzle with the rest of the Diamondbacks’ impressive young arms the team’s rotation has a chance to be simply terrifying for the rest of the NL West in the very near future.