Craig Goldstein examines what the former first round pick can provide his future fantasy owners if it all breaks right...and if there's a chance of that happening
The word I keep coming back to on Bradley is "ideal". That's a big word to throw on a (now) 20-year old and it creates unrealistic expectations. But I also keep thinking "what if he does realize those expectations. Bradley is a monster in the making. He's got an ideal (I swear I'll try not to use that word anymore) pitchers frame, standing 6'4 and a solid 225 lbs. He has optimal (I'm doing it!) athleticism given his background as a standout quarterback for Oklahoma's Broken Arrow High School, and he was slated to go to Oklahoma University to back up Landry Jones before Arizona signed him away for $5 million. While he signed to late to get any meaningful work in (2 innings in the Pioneer League) in 2011, Bradley jumped straight to full season ball, joining the South Bend SilverHawks of the Lo-A Midwest League.
That brings us to his most recent season which lacked the all-too-perfect nature connoted in the-word-not-to-be-used. His season was interesting, confirming the early scouting reports that glowed to the point of combustion while at the same reminding us that Bradley is just a baby in terms of development. His time spent focusing on football may have put him behind the curve developmentally in baseball, but it's a double-edged sword in that he has all the more room to grow while already boasting top of the rotation stuff. The good part of Bradley's 2012 featured 152 strikeouts in 136 innings. The bad was the 84 walks (and 15 HBP!) that came with them. To say I'm not worried yet about the incredibly high walk rate (5.8/9 IP) isn't to simply ignore it. It's a problem and it needs to be addressed. However, with his dual sport history, Bradley can be forgiven for some developmental ills that we would otherwise ding him a little harder for. And just for comparison's sake, another notable pitcher taken 7th overall draft pick (Clayton Kershaw) registered a 4.9 BB/9 IP in his first full season. This isn't to imply that Bradley is the next/right-handed Kershaw, but he does have ace upside if he can harness his incredible stuff. Only 19 years old, control problems are understandable for anyone -- much less a pitcher with Bradley's stuff and raw nature.
With stuff that's far too good for Midwest League hitters, and perhaps even himself, Bradley's ranks among the best in the minors. He has a plus-plus fastball that can touch as high as 98 MPH, but will generally reside in the mid 90s with heavy movement. He boasts a second plus-plus pitch in his hammer of a curveball that might best be viewed whilst sipping a ginger ale because the break might just turn your stomach. Bradley's big bender is a power pitch, often arriving at the speed you'd normally anticipate a slider, and features sharp two-plane break. He also has a change up that has flashed plus arriving at close to 10 MPH difference than his fastball and with some sink. Flashing plus doesn't imply consistency however, and despite owning two plus-plus pitches, Bradley is going to need to gain some traction on his change to reach his considerable ceiling. Control is an obvious sticking point as well, with some thinking that Bradley's high leg kick causes him to lose balance at times. If he can learn to generate the same amount of leg power with a reduced leg kick, we could see a quick improvement to his control woes. Whether he can improve his command without sacrificing the raw stuff remains to be seen, though Bradley could be plenty effective even if that is the case. While he does have his warts, Bradley's two plus-plus pitches present a monster ceiling and the security of knowing he could still be quite valuable even while falling well short of his...optimal result.
Bradley presents a bit of an interesting situation. His stuff alone can allow him to overpower hitters in the lower minors, yet he has (so far) failed to show he can pound the strikezone effectively. Another year of high strikeouts and high walk totals is not going to be considered a rousing success. This can lead to an awkward situation where a raw product is pushed to an advanced level sooner than you'd normally want because the stuff is so good that the lower minors won't prove challenging. It wouldn't shock me to see Bradley reach Double-A in his second season in pro ball, in what would be an aggressive but understandable move by the Diamondbacks. Bradley is a big project with even bigger upside, so aggressive predictions aside, we shouldn't be disappointed if the team takes their time with him. He will arrive when he's ready, and if by then he's the #1 pitcher we think he can be? Well that would be...ideal.
Here's some footage of Bradley courtesy of Perfect Game USA (and excellent source for prospect/college info) from April 2012:
Perfect Game USA