Diamondbacks uber-prospect Archie Bradley still brings his 99 mph fastball to the mound, but the rest of his game has slowed appreciably this season, a product of lessons learned in his first year in the Diamondbacks’ system. The hurry to reach the major leagues has been replaced by a desire to enjoy the process.
And as is often the case, less is more.
With a more mature approach and the stuff that made him the seventh player taken in the 2011 draft, Bradley has dominated the California League in his first four starts at Class A Visalia, going 1-0 with a 1.14 ERA. The strikeouts are still there, 35 in 23 2/3 innings, an average of 13.3 per nine innings. The walks that plagued him last year are not. Bradley has cut his walk rate in half, from 5.6 per nine innings to 2.7, the most remarkable part of his second season.
Most pitchers would take Bradley’s 2012 season — 12-6 with a 3.84 ERA and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings at Class A South Bend. Scouts still drool, and Baseball America ranked Bradley as the 25th best major league prospect before the 2013 season, second among the D-backs to Tyler Skaggs.
But Bradley, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, was accustomed to more. He was 12-1 with an 0.38 ERA in his senior year at Broken Arrow (Okla.) High, giving up three earned runs while striking out 137 strikeouts, and he was determined to improve, especially after walking 84 at South Bend.
“It was very frustrating last year. It is something I had never gone through. I had never failed like that. I had never walked guys like that. I’d never struggled that badly,” Bradley said, the competitor in him coming through.
“But as weird as it sounds, it is something I’m glad I went through. It talk me a lot about myself. It taught me a lot about the game of baseball in general — how quickly things can get out of hand, and at the same time how simple the game is. We complicate it so much. It’s just about getting back to the basics. That’s one of the things I did. It’s understanding the basics of pitching. You throw strikes, you try to get guys to hit the ball. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to throw perfect strikes. Throw the ball over the plate and it will work out.”
The maturity level was evident in Bradley’s most recent start, when he gave up eight hits and three runs, two earned, while getting a no-decision in Visalia’s 4-3 victory over Lake Elsinore last Saturday. A bad hop and a defensive play or two that were not made forced Bradley to get extra outs, but he was the picture of cool on the mound.
“It was not an easy outing,” D-backs director of player development Mike Bell said. “But if you didn’t know what had happened and were just watching him, you would have thought he had a no-hitter. A young guy could react in a negative way. He never had any of that. He’s in a good place mentally.”
Bradley agreed, calling that his biggest step forward.
“It’s crazy what a difference a year can make as far as my maturity level and just my understanding how to prepare for baseball on and off the field,” said Bradley, who will turn 21 in August. “I feel like I’ve been able to slow the game down and been able to just compose myself. In those big situations, when I get behind in counts, I’ve been able to calm down and make quality pitches to get back into the at-bat and get out of it without walking guys or giving up a big inning.”
Bradley touched 99 mph with his fastball against Lake Elsinore on Saturday after reaching 100 mph in the Oklahoma Class 6A state championship game in 2011, and he complements that pitch with a curve ball and a changeup. Scouts still drool over his repertoire, and a slight mechanical change has helped him cut down on his walks.
“I went into spring training with a lot of motivation, a lot of drive and determination to fix things and to get better. It’s really just minor stuff, what every pitcher is constantly working on,” said Bradley, who watched video with minor league pitching coordinator Mel Stottlemyre Jr.
Bradley has given up 0, 0, 1 and 2 earned runs in his four starts while striking out 9. 10, 8 and 8. Baseball America projects Bradley to arrive in the major leagues in 2015, but that is just a guess. The D-backs believe it is when, not if.
“I think he understands he has the ability to be a really good, solid pitcher. He has big goals, and he should. He has the talent to match it,” Bell said.
The No. 25 ranking by Baseball America is “an honor,” Bradley said.
“It’s really cool being ranked that high, but at the same time, I don’t want to be a prospect. I want to be pitching in the big leagues. That’s the next goal. It just shows me if I can keep doing what I am doing on a daily basis, not look ahead and not look too far into the future and keep doing what I am doing now, then eventually it will take care of itself.” Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter