Braden Shipley had no business being a top prospect in next month's First-Year Player Draft, left alone being a potential top-10 pick.
After all, the 21-year-old right-hander didn't pitch until his junior year of high school. He started his college career at Nevada as a shortstop. He pitched a grand total of 10 2/3 innings as a freshman.
Yet here he is, one of the top college pitchers in the country after stepping into Nevada's rotation as a sophomore, lighting up the Alaska League over the summer and continuing to show outstanding arm strength as a junior.
"After last summer, going over things, my velocity increased. I was talking to some scouts pretty heavily," Shipley said. "I thought I had a chance to go [in the Draft] and was pretty excited about that. It was a huge jump from where I was.
"Then, when I got to school, things started heating up a bit. I was getting more attention. I thought, 'Maybe I now have a chance to go in the first five rounds.' I just kept working hard. With each start I had in the fall, I showed guys I was getting better. The stuff was there; I knew I had put myself in a pretty good position when the year started. Once it started, I just tried to focus on pitching. Whatever happened in the end was going to happen. I don't know where I'm going to go. Whatever happens is going to be positive."
What happened is that Shipley continued to show his mid- to upper-90s fastball that compares favorably with top college pitchers Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray. He's shown some growth with his curveball and changeup to go along with the plus heater, though he's still working on those secondary offerings. When it all comes together -- all three pitches, execution and command -- he's pretty much impossible to hit, as was the case in his final regular-season start last Thursday. Opposing potential first-rounder Aaron Judge and Fresno State, Shipley tossed seven shutout innings of one-hit ball, walking one and striking out 10.
"I felt like [Thursday] was the best outing I've had all year," Shipley said. "I think I showed those who were watching what I can do, how I can dominate the strike zone and dominate hitters.
"I felt like I've always had pretty good command of my pitches, but there was inconsistency there. I think that was from not having pitching experience. I think I've improved from last year and the beginning of this year. Each week has been a step forward and that was my goal."
Shipley knew when he got to college that he might have to overcome his lack of pitching experience, at least initially. Nevada had a deep, veteran pitching staff and a wide, gaping hole at shortstop, the position the Oregon native largely played in high school. A bit of a baseball rat, Shipley just wanted to be on the field in some capacity and wanted to be a team player.
"I felt at that particular time, me playing shortstop was the best thing for the team," Shipley said. "I knew eventually I'd get my opportunity to show what I had on the mound, as well.
"I'm glad I wasn't just sitting down in the bullpen twiddling my thumbs. I love playing the game. I loved playing shortstop. It's about playing the game and being out on the field. It was great to improve my athleticism, my speed and quickness. It's helped me a ton."
It didn't help Shipley in terms of his arsenal of pitches. He still throws the same breaking ball, a curve, that he threw in high school, but it basically sat on the shelf for a year and he had to dust it off as a sophomore. It's still a work in progress but he's felt that over the past month, his breaking ball has been more consistent.
Where Shipley pitches doesn't help him develop a feel for the pitch, either. Nevada's schedule is full of visits to ballparks at higher elevations and with thinner air, veritable launching pads for hitters. His fastball is always just fine in places like that, but the difficulty in getting the same amount of bite or sink on his secondary stuff can be frustrating for a someone still learning to hone those pitches. But Shipley can find a silver lining.
"It's tough pitching in the ballparks I play in," Shipley said. "Your stuff just isn't as good. When you do get ahead, your best stuff is not there. But it really teaches you to pitch without your best stuff. Then, when you come down to low-elevation places like Fresno or San Diego, then it's just fun."
There's no question Shipley is enjoying a ride he really didn't envision taking, all the way up to the top third of the first round of the Draft. Even his lack of time on the mound could work to his advantage, setting himself up for a Draft day that far exceeds his earlier expectations.
"The pitching experience, I don't have as much as a lot of the guys, but I keep working and I feel like I've learned a lot and I still can get better," Shipley said. "I feel I don't have as much mileage as a lot of the pitchers across the country. Pitchers are getting hurt all the time. My arm has a lot left in the tank.
"It's pretty exciting stuff. I couldn't be happier with what's gone on. It's been a very exciting year. I'm just going to continue to pitch and play the game that I love."
To find out how the Draft plays out, tune in to all of the coverage, starting on Thursday, June 6. It all begins at 7 p.m. ET, with the top 73 picks being broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will be also streamed live on MLB.com on June 7-8. MLB.com's coverage will include the Top 100 Draft Prospects list; Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player, and the Draft itself. You also can keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. Get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.