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The 2011 Major League Baseball Rule IV Draft was widely considered to be one of the best drafts in recent memory, if not all time. Although there was no consensus “generational” talent that would go #1, such as 2009’s #1 Stephen Strasburg or 2010’s #1 Bryce Harper, the depth of top-flight talent would be the calling card of the 2011 draft.
There were five elite pitching prospects that went in the first seven picks; college pitchers Gerrit Cole (#1, Pirates), Danny Hultzen (#2, Mariners), and long-tossing Trevor Bauer (#3, Diamondbacks); and Oklahoma High School pitchers Dylan Bundy (#4, Orioles) and Archie Bradley (#7, Diamondbacks). Each of the first four picks have generated significant buzz: Cole for his blazing fastball and ace projection in High A; Hultzen for his absolute dominance of college hitters while at Virginia and continued dominance in AA; Bauer for his routine of 500-foot long-tossing, throwing his first warm-up pitch off the backstop, dominance at UCLA, and continued dominance in AA; and Bundy for his 100-mph fastball and ace projection, coupled with his near perfect dominance of Low A hitters thus far (64 batters faced over 20 innings, allowing only two hits and two walks, while striking out 33.
Perhaps the best one of them all, and the one generating the least buzz, has been the #7 pick: former Broken Arrow Tiger Archie Bradley. Bradley’s tale started long before he was drafted. After to transferring to Broken Arrow High School before his junior year, Bradley quickly became a multi-sport star as the starting quarterback for the football team and the ace pitcher for the baseball team. After Bradley’s junior season, he was named to the 2010 Aflac All-American Baseball Classic as a pitcher for the West team.
Prior to the 2011 baseball season, there was considerable buzz surrounding Bundy and Bradley. As often happens with elite athletes who play in the same area, Bundy and Bradley becoming friends when they were roommates for the Dallas Baseball Academy of Texas (D-Bat) Mustangs, an amateur team that played in the DFW Metro Scout League and in the Connie Mack World Series, the premier tournament for high school-age baseball players.
During Bradley’s senior season, he led his team to a 36-1 record and the Oklahoma 6A State Championship, Broken Arrow’s first since 1991. Bradley pounded the strike zone with his mid-to-upper 90s fastball and power curveball, striking out 14 and only allowing two hits. Three of Bradley’s strikeouts were by Owasso’s star pitcher Dylan Bundy, who was playing third base (he pitched the previous day). Bradley finished the season with a 12-1 record, allowing only three earned runs across 71.1 innings, while striking out 133 (16.8 K/9).
In February, Bradley committed to play both football and baseball at the University of Oklahoma. Bradley, a big Sooner fan, was going to redshirt his freshman year in order to acclimate to college. Bradley, when asked about his choice to go to Oklahoma or play professional baseball, said:
It’s going to come down to what I really feel is best for me. I’ve used this analogy a bunch: Andrew Luck staying at Stanford proved that money isn’t everything. I have to make a decision that I can be happy with. I’ll weigh it out, whether it’s OU or pro ball is right for my future. It’s gonna be a big decision.
On June 6, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Bradley with the #7 overall pick of the draft. Bradley had a choice: go to Oklahoma to learn, play football and baseball, and hope to improve his draft stock in three years; or sign for guaranteed millions with the Diamondbacks. Before the draft, Bradley and fellow Oklahoman Bundy had made waves with their pre-draft comments about expected signing bonuses, as reported by Baseball America’s Jim Callis:
Neither Bundy nor Bradley will top Strasburg’s [$15.1 million] contract. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Bundy equaled or surpassed Beckett and Porcello [both $7 million], or if Bradley topped the $5.25 million two-sport deal that quarterback/right hander Zach Lee got from the Dodgers in 2010.
Just minutes before the deadline, Bradley signed a contract worth $5 million, spread out over five years due to his two-sport abilities (players who could play multiple sports in college are eligible to have their signing bonuses spread out over a number of years, while one-sport athletes must get theirs all at once).
After signing, Bradley was sent to the Missoula Osprey, the Diamondbacks’ Rookie Level affiliate in the Pioneer League. Bradley appeared in two games for one-inning each, allowing one hit, zero walks, and zero runs, while striking out four. In 15 innings with the Diamondbacks during instructional league play, Bradley gave up four runs, walking four, giving up just five hits, and striking out 22.
After the season, the prospect prognosticators repeatedly stated how much they liked Bradley’s potential, with Baseball America ranking Bradley #2 in the Diamondbacks’ organization and #25 overall, Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranking Bradley #3 in the Diamondbacks’ organization and #37 overall, and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com rated Bradley #18. John Sickels stated that it is “[h]ard to say that a guy picked #7 overall is a “steal,” but he may very well be.
The glowing reports came in during Spring Training, with the buzz focusing on Bradley’s velocity and power curveball. One of the people commenting was Diamondbacks starting catcher, Miguel Montero:
I wanted to see what he had. I don’t believe what people say, so I wanted to see it. I saw the real deal right there. The ball was coming out of his hand like he was throwing 200 mph, an explosion. Those kids had no chance. Then I’m like, ‘He’s got just a fastball,’ and then he threw a hammer [curveball]. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He’s only 19, but if he stays healthy the way he is, he’s going to be here probably sometime next year. I guarantee that.
Montero continued, discussing Bradley on a personal level:
He’s a good kid. He has a great personality; I like it. Seems like a great teammate. He’s dedicated, he wants to get better and he wants to play in the big leagues soon.
Bradley’s pure stuff has been the focus of the attention with his blazing fastball, as was stated by Diamondbacks’ minor league pitching coordinator Mel Stottlemyer, Jr.:
You know how some hitters, there’s a different sound off the bat? It’s a different look on how that ball comes out of his hand. We’ve got some other good arms out there; take nothing away from them. But this is different. We stay out of his way.
Bradley’s curveball has also gathered attention, as it was called a “knockout curveball” by Jim Shonerd at Baseball America and a “power curve” that is an above average pitch by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. The most hyperbolic was Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus, stating that Bradley’s “power curve is an executioner pitch, thrown with impressive velocity and achieving a very late and heavy break. Scouts have not been shy about throwing a future 7 on the offering, saying it could miss bats at any level of professional baseball right now.”
After spring training, Bradley was assigned to the South Bend Silver Hawks of the A Level Midwest League. Bradley, the third youngest pitcher (only Raul Alcantara and John Barbato are younger) and 11th youngest player in the league, immediately began dominating the league. In Bradley’s first six starts, Bradley has gone at least five innings and allowed no more than two runs. Even after a poor seventh start (4 innings and 5 runs – 3 earned – against the Great Lakes Loons while giving up his first home run), Bradley’s statistics are imposing: 4-1 record and a 2.57 ERA with 38 strikeouts and only 13 hits over 35 innings. While Bradley has walked 21 batters, his 0.971 WHIP shows just how dominating he has been in his brief time in professional baseball.
So what should we expect from Bradley? Unless you are a fan of the Diamondbacks or in an exceptionally deep keeper league, Bradley probably will not be of relevance until late 2014, if not 2015. Bradley’s ability, coupled with his size (6’4″ and 225 pounds) and simple, easy delivery make him a top prospect based upon current ability, and he has the potential to become even better. In order to become the top of the rotation starter the Diamondbacks envisioned when they drafted him, Bradley will have to improve his command, sharpen his power curveball, and turn his average-at-best curveball into a solid third pitch.
[T]here’s still so much that could go wrong with Bradley’s development. … Lower-level arms are tantalizing to dream on, but the odds of them panning out as planned are disturbingly small, which is something to remember before declaring Bradley as a sure-fire bet to anchor the D-backs rotation in 2014.
But don’t sell Bradley short just because he was the 5th pitcher taken in the 2011 draft – he may have the most potential.