This is our task with this week's Pipeline Perspectives: Which pitching prospect do we think has the most to prove in 2015?
Both Jim Callis and I are picking right-handers who still have very bright futures, but had things go not entirely according to plan in 2014. Jim is writing about 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel of the Astros, while I'd like to discuss the D-backs' top prospect, Archie Bradley.
This isn't a hotly contested debate. Both of these well-thought-of young pitchers had their share of struggles this season. So rather than try to find fault in Jim's choice (I can't), I'll focus on why I think Bradley has something to prove next season.
Bradley entered the 2014 season as arguably the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. We had him ranked as such, No. 5 overall on our Top 100, just ahead of the Mariners' Taijuan Walker. It was well-deserved. The 2011 first-round pick had gone 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings, spending most of the 2013 season in Double-A at age 20. There had even been talk about the D-backs calling Bradley up late last season had they made a serious playoff run.
Bradley competed for a spot in Arizona's rotation this spring, though he was a long shot based on his age and experience. It did, though, speak to what the organization thought of his future. Most believed that Bradley would reach the Major League rotation at some point during the 2014 season.
Bradley headed to Triple-A Reno and fired five shutout innings in his debut, and he followed it up with a seven-innning, two-run outing, certainly a promising start. But it went south from there, as the big right-hander gave up 12 runs over his next three starts (12 1/3 innings) before getting shut down with an elbow strain.
Bradley missed nearly two months, and when he did return, he made 12 starts back in Double-A. With Mobile, he went 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA. There were some encouraging signs. First, Bradley stayed healthy the rest of the way. He showed glimpses of being dominant, including a 10-strikeout game. Overall, Bradley held Southern League hitters to a .231 batting average. But he also walked 36 in 54 2/3 innings.
Bradley's control was the one thing that needed some improvement from that 2013 season. He walked 4.1 per nine innings that year. In 2014, it went up to 5.3.
A two-month layoff and trying to just get back to full strength is enough to give Bradley a bit of a mulligan. And it is important to remember that he spent most of the season at age 21. Even next year, Bradley will still be way ahead of the curve age-wise.
The fact that he was still missing bats is a good sign, but Bradley will need to show he can command the baseball in the strike zone better in order to get a shot, and then stay, in the big leagues. He'll have to do all of this while proving his arm is fine, something he can do by simply taking the ball every fifth day without incident.
Bradley is heading to the Arizona Fall League to make up for some lost innings. He can also help continue to point himself in the right direction. A strong showing in the AFL, annually a hitting-friendly circuit, will assuage concerns about Bradley's health and his future.
Clearly, we think Bradley is going to be just fine. We moved him down from No. 5 only to No. 10 in the Top 100 when we re-ranked the list this summer. Appel, on the other hand, went from No. 17 to No. 42.
But there will be a lot of eyes on Bradley in 2015, watching to see if his right elbow will hold up, if he can be the front-line starter he looked poised to become. It's been a lost season for the D-backs, one that has them currently with the worst record in baseball. No one is expecting Bradley to right the ship single-handedly. But if Bradley can prove that the 2014 season was one small blip of adversity, he should be given an opportunity to help turn things around in 2015.