ST PETERSBURG FL. Taj Bradley is a highly-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, but he hasn’t always been. In 2018 when he was drafted in the 5th round he didn’t even enter the top 30 prospect list. However, he had his breakout season in 2021 throwing 103.1 innings with a 1.83 ERA between low and high A. Then in 2022, his impressive season set him up for promotion.
He was first called up on April 11th as the first pitcher born in 2001 to ever pitch in the big leagues. After 3 starts Bradley was sent down to start working on a 5 day routine. The goal was to get Bradley acclimated to the pace of the big leagues. On May 18th after Drew Rasmussen entered the 60-day IL Taj got called up once again. Here is what Bradley said about filling a big role in the starting rotation.
“I just come and play my same game, so I’m not trying to do too much like if I’m the missing piece of the puzzle. I just want to pitch my game, come up and keep being the same player I was in the minor leagues, and just work to have success up here.”
One of the big question marks about Bradley is whether he’ll develop a third pitch effective pitch. He throws the fastball and the cutter close to 80% of the time. Because they are above above average pitches that hasn’t been a problem in the minors. The cutter that sometimes can work as a hard slider is very effective as well (-4 run value). It averages 87.4 MPH with superb horizontal movement (64% better vs league average).
Taj Bradley, Filthy 88mph Cutter...and Sword.✂️⚔️ pic.twitter.com/YQmolrU67B— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 18, 2023
But major league hitters catch on quickly; survival as a starter may require that he improve his other offerings. Here’s what Bradley says about his pitch mix.
“Right now I try to use my pitches equally. For a strikeout pitch I can beat them with the heater, the cutter was my put-away pitch in the minor leagues, and now I’m working on the change-up, and using my curveball more as a get-me-over for a strike, but also as a strikeout pitch for swing and miss.”
Taj Bradley, Dirty 89mph Changeup.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 19, 2023
9th K pic.twitter.com/ghBuQ5dxdz
The change-up is still a work in progress. It has a -1 run value and a 41.7 WHIFF%. Moreover, he is getting weak contact all over the place, he has been able to gather a .098 xSLG with that specific pitch. However, the strike-out stuff is still developing,
The curveball has been a fun experiment. In the first couple of outings, Bradley was using the curveball to punch out batters, however, as the outings went by he started using the curveball to steal strikes. In his words:
“Early in the count I try to land it for a strike, but now I can mix it in even in the count, or in 1-1 counts. So I’m trying to throw it more spots than just early on. Like I said, I’m trying to make it like a put-out pitch, or maybe if it’s 1-1 or even on the count I can break it in and get to two strikes. So, pretty much the same thing to land it for a strike, or get a swing and miss.”
Taj Bradley, Vicious 80mph Curveball. ⚒️ pic.twitter.com/pr7Efkvvnd— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 18, 2023
Although Taj only throws the curve on occasion it is still a quality pitch. The curve generates tons of swings and misses (45.5% WHIFF). Also, the curveball is one of the deepest in the game, in other words, it’s one of the curveballs with the greatest amount of vertical break (62.2 inches 11% vs league average).
Like so many Rays pitchers, Bradley gives Kyle Snyder a lot of credit for helping him adjust:
“He has been good, he comes and says hey man your stuff is good, just some things that you may need to work in the minor leagues once you figure it out you will be ready to go. And like in yesterday’s outing, he was letting me know that my shoulder was flying open. So, he always says keep your eye on, and do the little things that will help you be so much better in the future.”
With Springs out for the season and Rasmussen out for at least several months, the success of the 2023 Rays will hinge to a larger extent than expected on Bradley’s ability to provide quality starts every five days. He has both the tools and the attitude to succeed.