Jed Bradley made his first professional start Saturday, officially completing his transition from Georgia Tech star to the Brewers' No. 2 prospect
. And he couldn't help but notice on distinct difference between the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Florida State League.
"The [strike] zones are much more consistent as far as umpires go, that's for sure," said Bradley, who issued one walk. "Here, the box varies a little, but it stays the same within the individual. There's a lot more inconsistency in college."
Whether it was the quality of the umpiring or the quality of his own pitching, Bradley shined in his pro debut, allowing three hits and striking out seven over 6 1/3 innings in the Brevard County Manatees' 1-0 blanking of the Daytona Cubs.
Last year's 15th overall Draft pick credited a good two-seam fastball and the defense behind him for his superior start. And while he missed a lot of bats, he also got the Cubs to ground out seven times against only three flyouts. The 21-year-old left-hander singled out a diving stab by shortstop Nick Shaw that saved a hit and closed out the second inning.
"I tried to be aggressive in the zone, get some ground balls," Bradley said. "The guys made some great defensive plays behind me. ... Those help keep the innings from dragging on and keep your pitch count down, allow you to extend your outing."
But Bradley knows that at the Class A Advanced level, he'll have to rely on more than quality defense and consistent strike zones to repeat the kind of success he enjoyed Saturday.
"In the Florida State League, there are a lot of good players here," he said. "I played in a good conference in school. But here, you take all the best players from all the best conferences, and that's what I'm going up against. These are definitely the best players I've ever faced."
The 6-foot-4 Alabama native was 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA in 16 starts last year at Georgia Tech and was named second team All-ACC for the second straight season. He struggled a bit in the Arizona Fall League after signing late last summer, allowing six earned runs over 8 1/3 innings in five appearances while working mostly as a reliever.
Early in Spring Training, Bradley had to overcome a slight groin strain that was the result of an offseason training regimen. The former Yellow Jacket pitched twice for the big league club in Arizona, surrendering two runs in two innings before MLB.com's No. 96 prospect was sent to Minor League camp with specific instructions.
"Just develop as a person, as a player," Bradley said. "That's the thing about baseball, there's always something to work on. Whether it's your pickoff move or a particular pitch, there's always something you can work on and develop."
While Bradley can only hope to reproduce Saturday's success as the season unfolds, he noted that he won't be looking at the box score after every game.
"I just want to pitch the best that I can," he said. "I want to get in the right spot, so that I'm confident in what I'm doing and what's going on. I don't try to make number goals. I know if I work on my stuff and get that where I want it to be, the numbers will follow."
First baseman Cody Hawn provided the only offense Bradley and the Manatees needed with a solo homer in the fourth.
Cubs starter Hayden Simpson allowed one run on five hits over 4 1/3 innings. He struck out two.