The Situation: Arizona made a smorgasbord of moves this winter to position themselves as contenders in the NL West. They currently sit two-plus touchdowns out of first place. With the team all but eliminated from playoff contention and Zack Greinke ailing, the Diamondbacks will call on the best prospect in the system, right-hander Braden Shipley.
Background: Shipley came to Nevada as a true two-way prospect, and was actually better with the bat early on, earning second-team All-WAC honors as a shortstop. That quickly changed, as Shipley transformed himself to one of the best right-handed starters west of the Mississippi, and earned top-10 consideration during his junior year. However, Shipley’s stock slid on draft day causing him to fall to the Diamondbacks with the 15th overall pick. Since then, he’s put up solid—if not spectacular—numbers, posting a career 3.79 ERA in just under 442 innings with a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.70. As is so often the case, those numbers don’t truly tell the story of how talented Shipley is, and the DBacks have seen enough to believe he’s ready to get big-league hitters out.
Scouting Report: Shipley has lost some athleticism over the years—that’s just how time works, folks—but you can still see it in his delivery and his arm strength. The four-seam fastball will touch the mid 90s, typically sitting in the low 90s with some sink. A significant development has been his ability to command the pitch, as it’s usually at or below the knees and he gets ahead in the count with the offering.
The fastball is good, but the secondary offerings are what make Shipley such an intriguing prospect. His best pitch is his change; it’s his one true swing-and-miss pitch that comes from the exact same arm-speed as the heater, and it’s tumble makes it a go-to pitch against both lefties and righties. The curveball isn’t quite at the same level as the change, but it’s another above-average offering with good depth and hard spin.
It’s all well and good to have a strong arsenal, but it doesn’t mean much if you can’t throw the pitches for strikes. Shipley can certainly do that. He has shown marked improvement every year in improving his delivery and the clean, repeatable action allows him to hit his spots with all three pitches. The command isn’t plus, but at some point, it could be.
Immediate Big-League Future: When you look at Shipley’s numbers and see the hits allowed and the lack of strikeouts, keep a couple of things in mind. First, over 50 percent of balls put in play against Shipley are grounders or popups, so he’s inducing a fair amount of weak contact. Also he was pitching in a terrible park in a terrible league for pitchers, so he did not have that going for him, which is not nice. Assuming he continues to hit his spots at the highest of high levels, there’s no reason to think he can’t be successful against big-league hitters. What you see is pretty much what you’re going to get, but what you get is a potential mid-rotation starter. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Take: He won’t save your team’s season, but he could be solid and he should have a spot in the rotation as long as he doesn’t blow up. The primary knock on Shipley coming into the season was his command, but he seems to have figured that out in Triple-A this year. He posted an excellent 1.66 BB/9 in Reno after posting a 3.23 mark in Double-A Mobile in 2015 and a 4.50 figure in Mobile in 2014. If he can maintain that newly improved walk rate against major league hitters, he should be able to help your team in the WHIP category.
So where’s the downside? He’s hittable. He hasn’t struck out more than a batter per inning since a 60.3 inning stint in High-A in 2014. Since then, his K/9 dropped to 8.1 in 2014 at Mobile, 6.8 in Mobile in 2015 and 5.8 in Reno this season. That doesn’t bode well for his immediate future in the majors. Neither does his new home park, Chase Field.
Short term, Shipley should have a spot in the Arizona rotation as long as he performs well. He’s risky, though, since he doesn’t miss many bats and will be playing his home games in a hitter’s haven. He could get beat up enough to knock your team down a spot or two in ERA. In the long run, the Oregonian should end up as a poor but playable roto starter in shallow leagues while being a solid if mediocre mid-rotation starter in deeper leagues and NL-only leagues.
One final note: if he stays in the free agent pool or ends up on someone else’s roster, keep an eye on his strikeout rate. If he figures something out and starts striking out more than a batter per inning, he’s worth targeting. That type of development at the major league level is exceedingly rare, but Shipley is relatively new to pitching after splitting time between shortstop and the mound in college. With a shortstop’s athleticism and some tricks of the trade left to learn on the mound, Shipley might have more room for improvement than most young starting pitchers, even if he gets knocked around for a while at first. —Scooter Hotz
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