J.R. Bradley, Nitro’s Finest

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West Virginia, Mountain Momma.  The Mountain State rarely produces professional sports talent.  The few famous athletes from West Virginia include Jerry West and Randy Moss.  In the realm of baseball, current major-leaguer Nick Swisher went to Parkersburg high school in Parkersburg, WV before attending Ohio State University.  In 2010, the state of West Virginia actually had two premiere athletes in the sport of baseball.  That year, Jedd Gyroko played second base for the West Virginia University Mountaineers before being drafted 59th overall in the 2nd round by the San Diego Padres.

That wasn’t too surprising; Gyroko was ranked by esteemed industry expert Baseball America as their 39th best draft prospect in 2010.  However, prior to that, a West Virginia product did create a surprise.  Three picks earlier, the Arizona Diamondbacks used their second round pick on Nitro high school prep pitcher J.R. Bradley.  That pick could be considered a reach as Bradley was ranked as the 162nd best draft prospect by Baseball America, but the West Virginian offers significant upside due to his physical projection.  In addition, Bradley’s high school stats, although they were compiled against weaker competition, did nothing but help his stock.  His senior year was especially impressive.  Bradley, who led Nitro high school to its second state championship in his four years at the school, had a 12-0 record, a 0.67 ERA, and 102 strikeouts in 63 innings.  In addition, it was reported that in his junior and senior seasons, Bradley only walked two batters total, displaying excellent control.

On draft day, Bradley stood at 6’4 and weighed only 180 pounds.  Since he touched 93-94 in high school with his fastball, while sittig in the 88-92 range, it’s easy to dream on Bradley having an impressive fastball as he matures and fills out.  At the time of the draft, Bradley’s secondaries – a slider and a changeup – were extremely raw.  However, both were viewed by scouts as having the potential to be above-average down the road.  Bradley, who was committed to N.C. State chose to skip college and sign with the Diamondbacks for $643,500.

Bradley signed early enough in 2010 to start fourteen games for Missoula in the Pioneer League.  Bradley did manage to pitch 54.2 innings in those fourteen starts, showing solid durability.  However, his final ERA stood at just a hair under 6.00 at 5.93.  Bradley also struck 40 batters in those 54.2 innings, an acceptable number, especially for a young prep pitcher.  On the flip side, Bradley was unable to duplicate his reputed impeccable control, walking 24 batters.  Overall, Bradley showed promise while getting his feet wet as a professional baseball player, especially considering his youth.

Bradley’s 2011 season was another mixed bag.  Promoted to South Bend in the Midwest League, Bradley produced troublesome peripherals.  The starting pitcher only managed to strike out 88 batters while walking 51 and giving up 169 hits in a total of 142.2 innings pitched.  That calculates to only a 5.55 K/9, 3.22 BB/9 and 1.73 K/BB, all less than stellar rates.  On the positive side, the 19 year-old pitched the entire year at an age appropriate level.  In addition, he showed impressive durability considering his youth by pitching 142.2 innings including two starts in which he lasted seven innings.  Finally, Bradley posted a very impressive GB/FB rate of 2.06, which should bode well for the future.

As a second round pick, high expectations will always follow Bradley around.  However, it’s crucial to remember that Bradley was drafted with an eye towards the distant future rather than instant results.  Bradley still won’t be able to legally drink next year.  In fact, he will start the season in 2013 still not able to legally drink.  The point is he’s young and he has plenty of time to develop.  In the Diamondbacks’s farm system, Bradley is at risk to get lost in the shuffle behind the elite pitching trio consisting of Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, and another Bradley, Archie.  However, considering Bradley’s elite projectability and present ability to create groundballs, that may not last for long.  Arizona Diamondbacks fans, along with J.R. himself, are certainly hoping so.

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