Editor’s Note: This article will be the first of a series called “Prospect Spotlight”
I wanted to develop this project to keep a more casual baseball fan in the know of the top prospects in baseball that aren’t the surefire elite names that most people know about. Lots of prospects down the top 100 list and unranked have the tools and skillsets to become great major league regulars, and unless you’re a fan of a particular team, most fans don’t know about players further down these lists.
The wild hype around Adley Rutschman and Julio Rodriguez this past season was rightfully lived up to by the two young phenoms, and now they’ve become household names. But how about names like Michael Harris II and Steven Kwan? These guys were low top 100 prospects at best before graduating and exploding on the scene for their teams, but nonetheless, they’ve now become household names in their respective fanbases. The top 100 prospect list is chock-full of players like these: players that currently don’t flash any of the insane tools that the cream of the crop has, but tools that will still translate really well at the major league level, making for useful contributors. The prospects I’m going to be covering and making scouting reports for are these types of players.
Starting the series off is Taj Bradley from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Currently, Bradley ranks as one of the best prospects in a loaded Rays’ farm system. He’s been something of a long development project for the Rays, as they took him out of high school in the fifth round in 2018. Early in Bradley’s career, the Rays knew his electric fastball was his strongest pitch, and if developed even more, it could make him an elite back end of the bullpen guy for the future. His lack of secondaries and control issues were the red flags that made Bradley’s trajectory somewhat shaky and heading more for a bullpen role than a starting job, but with most young arms, the Rays continued developing and raising his ceiling.
After not pitching during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bradley came back in 2021 looking like a new pitcher. It was a year of new milestones for him, as he broke out of the reliever mold and into a full-time starting job. What was making Bradley so suddenly effective was not only his fastball remaining brilliant but also the development of a sweeping cutter. The pitch paired so well with his fastball because the cutter had the action and movement of a sweeping slider but at a consistently high velocity. The pitch is graded as a slider by most sources (and it really is more of a slider) but Bradley himself describes the pitch as a cutter.
Something else that drastically improved in this breakout year of his was the control issues. That 2021 saw him post a WHIP of 0.93 and cut his BB/9 in half. What was even more encouraging was his ability to follow up this breakout with another great season.
After decimating Double-A, Bradley took the step up to Triple-A and handled it seamlessly. His numbers took a bit of a dip but that is also expected when moving to the closest level to major league hitting. That 2022 season certainly cemented him as a star in Tampa Bay’s system, and it’s now only a matter of time before he’ll be making his big league debut.
If his rounded arsenal and consistent strike-throwing ability continue to develop, Bradley has the chance to be an integral part of a loaded Rays pitching staff this coming season.
Here is Taj Bradley’s scouting report:
Stay tuned with @Diamond_Digest for more prospect spotlights!