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Former Broken Arrow star Archie Bradley dominating with knuckle curve

Archie Bradley was introduced to the knuckle curveball at age 10. A decade later, that pitch has helped the 20-year-old right-hander from Broken Arrow lead the minor leagues in strikeouts (110).
By Mike Baldwin Published: July 1, 2013

Archie Bradley was introduced to the knuckle curveball at age 10.

A decade later, that pitch has helped the 20-year-old right-hander from Broken Arrow lead the minor leagues in strikeouts (110).

Ranked the No. 24 prospect in preseason by Baseball America, Bradley has pitched so well he's currently ranked among the top-10 prospects midway through the 2013 season.

“He doesn't look like your average 20-year-old kid,” said an American League East scout. “The knuckle curve makes him unique. And he has a mid- to upper-90s fastball. He's the entire package. At times he dominates.”

Drafted seventh overall two years ago, Bradley is “dominating” despite being one of the youngest players in the Southern League.

In 1 1/2 seasons of pro baseball, Bradley has compiled 266 strikeouts in 233 innings. He's a 6-foot-4, 225-pound strikeout machine like former Missouri star Max Scherzer, another Diamondbacks' draft pick they later traded to Detroit.

“I've always gotten a lot of strikeouts,” Bradley said. “But as weird as it sounds, I'm learning when to strike guys out. Sometimes it's best to pitch to contact. Sometimes you need the strikeout. But sometimes a ground ball is good.”

Labeled a spike curve by baseball people, the knuckle curve is nothing like a knuckleball. The pitch was made famous by Mike Mussina, who won 270 games with the Orioles and Yankees. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have thrived with the knuckle curve.

Bradley learned the pitch from Mike Houser, father of Adrian Houser, a 20-year-old right-hander from Locust Grove who is pitching for the short season Class-A Tri-City ValleyCats in the Houston organization. Bradley and Adrian Houser played together as kids on travel teams.

“I honestly don't know where I'd be without that pitch,” Bradley said. “I've worked a lot on it the past 10 years. It's far from perfected, but it's a pitch that's really helped me.”

The 84 mph knuckle curve is a unique “out pitch” but Bradley's arsenal is built around a fastball that ranges from 93- to 99-mph. He once hit 100 on the radar gun this season, but his fastball normally sits between 93 and 96. He also throws a circle change-up.

“He throws all three for strikes,” Diamondbacks farm director Mike Bell told The Arizona Republic. “His stuff is so explosive he gets swings and misses even when he's in the zone.”

Dominating in the minors

Expectations were high for Bradley after he went 12-1 with a 0.29 ERA his senior year, leading Broken Arrow to the Class 6A state title.

Bradley doesn't turn 21 until August. He pitched only two innings his first season, signing late with Arizona for $5 million spread out over five seasons.

Averaging 111/2 strikeouts per nine innings, Bradley has been so dominant he's viewed as a potential ace in a major league rotation.

Selected to pitch in the July 14 Future Games in New York, Bradley was promoted to Double-A Mobile after toying with Class A hitters his first five starts (1.26 ERA, 43 strikeouts in 29 innings).

The bump in competition hasn't slowed him down. In 11 starts with the BayBears, Bradley is 6-3 with a 2.03 ERA, notching 67 strikeouts in 67 innings.

“It shows how much how I've matured since last season in every aspect, my composure on and off the field,” Bradley said. “That's really benefitted me, a reason I got moved up.”

Bradley went 12-6 with a 3.84 ERA last season with the South Bend Silver Hawks in the Class A Midwest League.

The ERA was misleading. His one downfall was 84 walks in 136 innings, although he compensated with 152 strikeouts.

“I never was that wild before,” Bradley said. “Some games I'd only give up two or three hits, but I'd give up two or three runs because of all the walks. It was something I worked hard on during the offseason.”

Bradley has trimmed his walks to 39 in 95 innings. His minor league leading 110 punchouts give him a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In 16 combined starts this season in Class A and Class 2A, Bradley is 8-3 with a 1.79 ERA.

A telltale stat is Bradley has held opponents to a .188 batting average in 44 career pro starts.

“He's doing great,” Bell said. “The command is there. The fastball is electric. The curveball is swing and miss. He mixes in some change-ups. The best thing is he's not looking too far ahead.”

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