Originally posted to the Mobile BayBears website
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - The invitation to Arizona Fall League can be a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it's an honor. You've slugged it out in the minors well enough that the big guys have noticed you. There's an extra two months for coaches, scouts and fans to watch you do what you do best.
But that's just it… it's another two months.
Two months to stay healthy, two months to produce results… your season is officially longer than those playing in the World Series.
For the Diamondbacks top prospect, Archie Bradley, Fall League is the time to get back on track, a chance to prepare for another spring training invitation to "The Show."
Bradley had an interesting 2014. The right hander started spring training with the chance to compete for a spot in Arizona's starting rotation. Following camp, he was optioned to AAA Reno where he posted a 5.17 ERA before being shut down for a flexor strain in his elbow. Avoiding Tommy John, Bradley re-appeared in AA Mobile, pushing through 54.2 innings of work with an alarming 36 walks.
While eyes lay heavy on players, Fall League is still a deep contrast from the regular season. Time in Arizona is less about scores and outcomes and more about self-awareness and development, even mechanical experimentation. Teams get a little more freedom in the postseason and can send in big league coaches and trainers to give attention to their top prospects. For Bradley, this means getting to work with Dbacks' Pitching Coordinator Dan Carlson on footwork and introducing a fourth pitch, the slider.
"One thing I struggled with was command and controlling pitches, so adding a new pitch may not sound like the best answer but... I wanted to add something to get hitters off my fastball. Talking to my pitching coach Dan Carlson I just started throwing it one day in the bullpen and it was better than I expected it to be."
Just three games in, Bradley introduced his slider and again in the league's Fall Stars game where he picked up the win for the East team. When a batter faces a pitcher with a three-pitch scouting report and is suddenly looking at an entirely new pitch, the confusion and change it the mentality can lead to effective strikes.
Bradley adds that creating confusion has been a skill he has worked on for years, particularly off the mound. The 6'4" righty was formerly committed to the University of Oklahoma as a dual-sport athlete, set to join the Sooners on the gridiron as a quarterback and on the diamond at his natural position, pitcher.
"It [football] was so much fun, I liked being the quarterback so much because the ball was always in your hand the way it is with pitching. As far as quarterback, there's formations, plays, the different reads… its very complex as far as your mentality and having to figure out what play to call versus what defense they're going to be running. It's a challenge every play, you can't take a snap off or relax mentally."
At 18 years old the Muskogee, Oklahoma native had a decision to make. To go on and join the Oklahoma 2011 signing class as one of the top collegiate athletes or commit to the Arizona Diamondbacks after being selected seventh overall to the tune of $5 million dollars. The choice came down to multiple factors.
"At the end of the day it was where I saw my future. At the time, I felt like baseball was the best option for me. Physically, it's a lot less demanding than college football. The money was a big deal as well, that's life changing money and I saw myself as a big leaguer, it's what I saw myself doing more than football. Instead of taking a chance to play three or four years and hope for a chance to be drafted into the NFL, I already had an opportunity right in front of me and it was something I couldn't turn down."
His family came around to the idea as well, leading to a contract signing just short of the deadline.
"My mom had mixed feelings, for her, education was number one. The money was a big deal but education is priceless. My dad had thought it was an unbelievable, once in a lifetime opportunity for me to sign for that kind of opportunity as an 18-year-old kid and potentially set myself up for life. My little brother just thought it was really cool to have a big brother become a professional athlete. The rest of the family was just really excited for the opportunity."
Opting out of Oklahoma is something that stays with Bradley who keeps his TV on Sooners games and never misses an opportunity to attend in-person during returns home. He mentions being fortunate enough to catch a few Oklahoma road games when he's within proximity, including the 2014 Sugar Bowl where the Sooners defeated Alabama 45-31. Bradley still remains in contact with a coach as well as some of the players he would have shared time on the field with.
"When football gets going and players ask me about it, I sometimes think what could've been. Especially here in the Fall League, [Byron] Buxson [Minnesota Twins] was going to play as a safety at Georgia and every time we're on the bench together we talk about what we would be doing right now if we were to play college football."
While Archie dreams about the what-if football days, the ace also admits it's not far from a reality four years later, especially after being shut down earlier this season.
"Any time you deal with an injury, you start to ask, "What if I don't come back from this? What if this ends my career? If it does can I be able to throw a football?" It's always been in my head, if I didn't make it and I could still throw a football, I'd at least have to give it a try."
While Bradley's baseball career advanced past his education, it's not something he has turned his back on. Archie's mother Pam Bradley has a lot to do with that, having worked in education for most of her life.
"It's something I would be proud of getting, I know my mom would appreciate it. It just depends on the situation, if something were to happen I'd go back and get my degree but knock on wood, everything goes as planned."
For now, Bradley's plans seem to be coming back to the 2014 expectations. He plans on finishing the Fall League and enjoying two months off before returning to Arizona. He's looking forward to time giving back to his community and spending time outdoors with his black lab Crash.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.