An explosive fastball helped J.R. Bradley
burst onto the scene at his West Viginia high school, but if the 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander is to reach the Major Leagues, it will be due to a transformation into a ground-ball pitcher.
"I kind of came out of nowhere my senior year," Bradley said. "I went from a decent pitcher to a high Draft pick. Going into the year, I wasn't on the second-round radar. My velocity went up a tick and I kept getting better throughout the year."
Selected by the D-backs in the second round of the 2010 Draft and signed for a bonus of nearly $650,000, Bradley leaped into pro ball on the heels of an amazing high school career. In his senior season, Bradley was 13-0 with a 0.67 ERA. With a fastball lighting up the radar gun at 94 mph, he struck out 102 batters in 63 innings, and in two seasons only walked two batters.
Development, though, has been trying for the personable Bradley, who is in his second season with Class A South Bend.
"I've dealt with adversity the first two seasons," said Bradley, who turned 20 in June. "There have been high spots and low spots. It's just going out and pitching and getting the reps."
Bradley posted a 6-16 record in 2011, a South Bend record for losses, and had a 4.98 ERA. He struck out 48 and walked 40. This season, Bradley is 6-8 with a 6.02 ERA, striking out 88 and walking 51. Strikeouts, though, aren't the point of emphasis for Bradley.
"For the most part, my focus has been throwing strikes and commanding the strike zone down," Bradley said. "For about two months, I had a tear where I was doing that and getting really good results. Then, about three or four starts in a row, I got away from it. When I was in the strike zone, it was middle and up. My last two outings, I've gone out and commanded the zone down. I'm getting ground balls."
Bradley's adjustment to being a ground-ball pitcher been a gradual one.
"It's not like I had a ton of experience," Bradley said. "In high school, I was mostly a fastball pitcher. I'm still young. I just turned 20. I'll go into Spring Training and the first half of next season being 20. I'm sticking with the plan and trying to get better, and learn from both success and failure."
Developing strength will be Bradley's focus in the offseason. He weighed 180 pounds his senior season and is currently 185. He struggled toward the end of last year, his first full season in pro ball, and is 1-4 with an ERA of 8.68 in his last 10 starts.
"I'm just trying to adjust to the grind of pro ball," Bradley said. "Once my arm gets used to the innings, year after year, I think that velocity will come back, and as I get bigger and stronger. My main goal this offseason is to put on some weight and get stronger so I can hold up at the end of the season better."
Bradley also understands that he shouldn't get caught up in his numbers at South Bend.
"Being young and being a high school guy allows you to look at the big picture, but at the same time, when you start dealing with the mental side and the whole confidence thing, which was an issue for me during that bad stretch I had, I think you can get too caught up in the numbers rather than the process," Bradley said. "I don't think guys in the big leagues now are looking back and celebrating or being disappointed in their seasons in A ball. I'm focused on the ultimate goal, which is to get better."
Ending the drought: Quad Cities pitcher Tyrell Jenkins won his first game at home for the first time in 11 tries when he helped the River Bandits post a 6-4 victory against Beloit. He gave up one run in five innings, striking out seven, to end his drought at Modern Woodmen Park. Jenkins yielded two walks and a run in the opening inning but only allowed four base-runners after that, and none got past second.
Big league help: Rehabbing Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Shaun Marcum helped the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers strong-arm the Peoria Chiefs, 8-1. Marcum pitched six innings, allowing only one run on four hits.
Impressive start: Oakland's first-round pick of the 2012 Draft, Addison Russell, enjoyed an impressive debut when he helped the Burlington Bees sting the Kane County Cougars, 6-3. Russell had three hits and drove in a run, scoring twice. The 18-year-old shortstop also made a leaping catch on a blooper to left.
Change of uniform: Arizona's trade with Oakland that involved infielder Stephen Drew gave former Burlington Bees shortstop Sean Jamieson a different home in the Midwest League. Jamieson was assigned to South Bend after hitting .234 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs in 119 games with Burlington this season. The former Canisius star was drafted in the 17th round last season by Oakland.