Jonathan Mayo makes a case for Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker. By the slimmest of margins -- mainly the difference in their breaking balls -- I prefer Bradley.
It seems strange to say this about someone who signed for $5 million as the No. 7 overall pick in the talent-rich 2011 First-Year Player Draft, but Bradley has exceeded expectations. The former University of Oklahoma quarterback recruit has developed faster than anticipated. He made significant strides with his control and command this season, which he was ticketed to spend all or most of at high-Class A Visalia.
Instead, Bradley required just five starts to earn a promotion to Double-A Mobile. In his age-20 season, he ranked third in the Minor Leagues in both wins (14) and ERA (1.84) and sixth in strikeouts (162 in 152 innings).
His statistics aren't as important as his stuff, and he is loaded with stuff. He works at 92-95 mph and touches 97 with his fastball. The fastball features late life and he uses his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame to leverage it down in the strike zone, making it even more difficult for hitters to handle.
While Walker's most effective secondary pitch is his cutter, Bradley has a true breaking ball. His curveball gives him a second swing-and-miss pitch, usually arriving with power (78-83 mph) and 12-to-6 break.
Bradley's changeup needs more work, as in the mid-80s it doesn't have enough separation from his fastball, though it does show some fade and could give him an average third offering down the road. He also needs to further cut down his walk rate, which he trimmed from 5.6 per nine innings in 2012 to 4.1 this season. And he didn't turn 21 until mid-August, so time is still very much on his side.
Like Jose Fernandez, Bradley has the pure stuff to succeed immediately in the big leagues without first stopping in Triple-A. Bradley's rookie performance may not be as spectacular as that of Fernandez, because he can't locate his pitches as well as the Marlins right-hander could at the same stage, but he can be a solid mid-rotation starter for Arizona next season.
Bradley should get plenty of opportunity to win a job in the Arizona rotation during Spring Training. The D-backs led the National League West into late July but ultimately finished 11 games behind the Dodgers, and their starters were a major reason for its fade.
Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley were the only two starting pitchers who lasted the entire season. Ian Kennedy was terrible before he got traded to the Padres, and Trevor Cahill, Randall Delgado and Brandon McCarthy had problems staying healthy and performing consistently. Tyler Skaggs, one of the game's best left-handed pitching prospects, failed in multiple attempts to stick in the big leagues.
After finishing ninth in the NL in rotation ERA (4.13) and quality starts (87) in 2013, the D-backs would be foolish to ignore what Bradley can do for them. He's capable of winning 12 games with a 3.50 ERA and 150 or so strikeouts, the first step toward blossoming into an eventual ace.