Prior to the 2014 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Archie Bradley was primed to become baseball’s next big star.
Baseball America ranked him as one of the top ten prospects in baseball (number nine to be exact), and the towering righty was coming off by far his best professional season. In 26 starts across High-A and Double-A, Bradley posted a ridiculous 1.84 ERA and struck out 162 batters in only 152.2 innings pitched.
The seventh overall pick did walk 4.1 batters per nine in his stellar 2013 season. But he was young, and hard-throwing prospects often struggle with control.
Promoted to Triple-A to begin the 2014 year, batters at the minor’s highest level exacerbated Bradley’s control problems. He opened the year walking 12 batters in 24.1 innings (that’s a 4.4 BB/9). His nasty stuff wasn’t getting out hitters either, as he let up more than a hit per inning and posted a terrible 5.18 ERA.
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The Diamondbacks had seen enough. After five starts in Triple-A, Bradley was demoted to the Double-A Southern League, where he sported a 1.97 ERA the year prior.
He didn’t fair any better in his new home. To give you an idea of his struggles, Bradley walked five batters and allowed five runs in only 0.1 innings pitched during his final Double-A start.
Flash forward to the 2015 season.
Bradley drops to 19 on Baseball America’s prospect list and comes to camp offering more questions than answers as a starting pitcher.
Does he have the endurance to succeed as a starter (only 3 starts of 7+ innings in 2014)? Will his command issues force him to the pen? How can he get major leaguers out if he is struggles after repeating Double-A?
Baseball-Reference’s Opponent Quality feature demonstrates that Bradley has faced major league and Triple-A caliber competition this spring, better than what he saw the majority of last year. I don’t want to put too much weight into Spring Training numbers, but so far Bradley has put all doubters to rest.
The Oklahoman has thrown to a 1.61 ERA, reminiscent of his 2013 numbers, and posted a solid WHIP of 1.164.
His strikeout rate is down, but that is no cause for concern. Armed with an elite fastball and a plus-plus curve, we know Bradley has the stuff to generate whiffs. Most importantly, his walk rate is down to 2.4 BB/9. That’s nearly half of his 2014 minor league mark.
There was talk of the DiamondBacks potentially utilizing Bradley as a reliever to open the season should he fare well. But after the 22-year-old threw six innings of one-hit ball against the Reds Wednesday, Arizona named the youngster as their No.5 starter.
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Given Bradley’s 2014 struggles and the fact that he yet to accumulate any major league service time, this certainly is a risky gamble for an Arizona team engaged in rebuilding mode.
But while I normally am a proponent of keeping prospects in the minors until the team gains another year of control, I think Bradley is an exception. His self-confidence has to be sky-high after such a remarkable spring. That confidence will allow him to most effectively use the tools that made him a top ten draft choice.
Sending him to the minors or bullpen would be the wrong move. Bradley has clearly earned the right to open the season in the rotation. And with the recent trade of Trevor Cahill, the Diamondbacks need all the starting pitching help they can get.
Bradley has a real chance to be a substantial contributor to Arizona’s squad this season. A hitter-friendly environment likely spoils any chance at a Rookie of the Year award. But if he can manage to hold his walk rate around 3.0 BB/9, anything is possible.
Look for an exciting year out of the DBacks top prospect this season.