SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Once a week, Archie Bradley makes the 40-mile drive from Broken Arrow, Okla., to Muskogee to visit his paternal grandmother. They may eat a meal or simply spend time together and talk, although the subject will not be football. She never approved of that sport, something she does have to fret about that now the Bradley is knocking on the door of joining the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation.
The visits started with family dinners many years ago, and Bradley made sure to keep them up through high school and now into his professional career whenever possible. When D-backs manager Kirk Gibson called Bradley a month ago to say hello, Bradley was headed down the Muskogee turnpike to visit a woman who has beaten cancer and a stroke, who has outlived two husbands and who likes it just fine living on her own at age 92, thank you.
You do not need to see the 17 pictures of Bradley affixed to her refrigerator to understand the connection.
"She’s the strongest woman I know, and we just have a really special bond," Bradley said. "We just try to take advantage of every moment we can spend with her. It’s something I think is really important.
"It’s fun. I grew up a Braves fan, and she was a Braves fan as well. We’d sit around and watch Braves games on TBS, talk about Chipper (Jones) and Andruw (Jones) and all the old guys."
So that is where Bradley, 21, gets it.
Everyone in baseball can see the measureables — the powerful frame, the smooth mechanics, the 99 mph fastball — that have made Bradley one of the top prospects in baseball. The Diamondbacks also have seen the work ethic, the attention to detail and the pride of ownership that they believe set Bradley apart, fueling their belief that he will be a top-of-the-rotation starter for years to come.
"Just a well-grounded young man," Gibson said. "He’s just got a great foundation. He’s got great values. That’s part of the rest of the package when you look at a guy beyond what comes out of his hand. You think that is going to make a difference for his stability as far as consistency."
General manager Kevin Towers saw the same two components in the first week of spring training, two and a half years after Bradley turned down a dual baseball/football scholarship from the University of Oklahoma to sign with the D-backs as the seventh player taken in the 2011 draft.
"To me, when you bring guys to the big leagues, you’re hoping that physically they are ready and emotionally they are ready," Towers said. "He’s a pretty gifted young man, where I think the skill set is probably there. Emotionally, he’s pretty strong. Maybe some of that has to do with his football upbringing. Calm under pressure. In the pocket, you don’t want to have those happy feet. I think he has been preparing for this for some time."
Bradley will be given every chance to make the rotation, Towers said after the signing of free-agent starter Bronson Arroyo, and that is certainly where Bradley wants to be at some point this season.
"That’s what I’d like to think, yes," Bradley said. "That’s ultimately the team’s decision, but I feel if I keep working and keep doing my thing that eventually, whether it is Day 1 or in September, it will happen. I’m just going to stay positive and take it day by day."
The overriding goal in his first major league spring training, Bradley said, is simply "to compete."
"Show them the strides I’ve made, where I’ve improved from last season," he continued. "Fastball command, the changeup, things like that. Just show them I am ready to compete. My goal is not to win the fifth spot. It’s just to go out there and have fun and put pressure on them. Take care of what I can control. When I get the ball, go out there and pitch and do my thing, and the rest will take care of itself."
Bradley’s chances may have lengthened when the D-backs added Arroyo to a returning staff of Patrick Corbin, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy and Wade Miley, but his 2013 numbers speak for themselves. Bradley was 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings last season, mostly spent at Class AA Mobile. He averaged 9.6 strikeouts and 4.1 walks per nine innings, dropping his walk ratio by one-fourth in his second full season.
"He hasn’t had that much time in the minor leagues as of yet, but every challenge we’ve presented him with, he’s met," Towers said. "Regardless of the outcome, I think the (spring training) experience is going to be good for him. He’s going to come in and compete with several others for one of the spots here and be exposed to better hitters than those he’s faced to this point in his career.
"We’re not holding him back with the reins by any means. We’ll take it outing by outing and see where he is at. I think he knows that the changeup is kind of the equalizer and pitch he still needs to work on to be successful up here. It sounds like he’s been working on it a lot in the offseason and will probably use it a lot this spring. We’ll see what happens come the end of March."