A year ago, Archie Bradley was a fresh-faced 19-year-old making his full-season debut. What followed was a season in which he established himself as one of baseball's best right-handed pitching prospects.
Now here's the scary part: He feels better at the start of the 2013 season than he ever did in 2012.
"I honestly feel like I've become stronger than where I was," Bradley said. "Not only that, but after the offseason and Spring Training programs I went through since last year, I'm a lot smarter, too, in a lot of ways. Whether it's the type of workouts I'm supposed to do or the food we're supposed to eat -- you can eat really poorly in the Minor Leagues -- I have a better outlook of what I'm supposed to do."
It showed Friday night.
The D-backs No. 2 prospect struck out nine, allowed four hits and walked three over 5 2/3 innings to lead the Visalia Rawhide to a 1-0 win over the visiting San Jose Giants.
Bradley (1-0) recorded nine or more strikeouts only twice last season with Class A South Bend, where he went 12-6 with a 3.84 ERA and ranked second in the Midwest League with 152 punchouts. In his California League debut, he fanned at least one batter in every inning but the first.
Not bad for a pitcher who tweeted, "Nerves are starting to kick in almost time to head to the ball park and make my first start of the 2013 season!! #rollHide @VisaliaRawhide," although he shrugged off the sentiment following the contest.
"I get nervous before every start, it's not that big of a deal," he said. "It's part of the game. It's baseball season again and I'm loving every minute of it."
There were points during which Bradley's 2012 shortcomings popped up again. MLB.com's No. 24 overall prospect, who issued a Midwest League-leading 84 free passes a season ago, walked Chris Lofton to open the game. He issued two more walks in the third that, coupled with Shaw Payne's infield single, loaded the bases with two outs. But the 6-foot-4 right-hander turned once more to the K to retire the side.
"Obviously, you don't want to give guys a free chance at first," Bradley said. "But I had a pretty good four-pitch mix going and when I fell off, I had to just take a step off, take a breather and collect myself to get the next out. I really tried working the ball inside to get outs. Even with the walks, they didn't score off them, and that's the important part."
Still, Bradley would be advised to keep the walk rate to a minimum in his new home in the Cal League, where big innings spring up with surprising frequency. According to MiLB.com's park factors, some of the most hitter-friendly parks in the Minors are in the Golden State.
Then again, the 2011 first-round pick might be just the pitcher suited for success in California. Possessing a high-quality sinking fastball, Bradley recorded four ground-ball outs, with none coming in the air. In fact, only two balls left the infield during his 5 2/3 innings on the mound, and both were singles.
With one Cal League start under his belt, Bradley wanted it known he's not afraid of his new circuit.
"I feel like people talk up this league a little too much," said the Oklahoma native. "If you believe in yourself, you'll be all right. At the end of the day, you're the one with the ball in your hand. If you leave the ball up in the zone, good hitters are going to hit it out, no matter what level you're at."
Bradley's performance Friday came with rehabbing Diamondback Cody Ross in attendance. The 32-year-old outfielder started at DH and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Nonetheless, his presence provided a little extra buzz at Rawhide Ballpark.
"Everyone kind of brings it up a level when a guy like that is around," said Bradley. "You always try hard out there, but it seems like guys elevate their game to play along with guys like him. I mean, he's won a World Series and he wants us to win while he's here. He cares about what we do and we want to impress him, too."