Prospect Smackdown: Archie Bradley vs. Taijuan Walker
When I began asking for suggestions for this series a few months back before our focus on positional rankings, the TDG readers inundated me with interesting match ups of prospects of all sorts. You asked me to compare elite players. You asked me about J2 guys. You challenged me to write about players on the periphery of fantasy relevancy, and you ask about prospects who should have an impact in 2014.
However, there were two suggestions for Prospect Smackdown that came up far more frequently than any others. The first was Xander Bogaerts vs. Javier Baez, and while that never made it to print, it’s something my colleague Mauricio Rubio and I did discuss on our There Is No Offseason podcast here (minute 29).
The second was a battle between the two consensus top fantasy prospect arms right now in Bradley and Walker, and it’s an interesting challenge that will require going beyond a cursory look into statistics. If there’s one thing The Internet has taught me, it’s to give the people what they want. And so without further ado, here’s a look at two potential fantasy aces.
Prospect Smackdown No. 6 – Who’s the better prospect: Archie Bradley vs. Taijuan Walker
The case for Bradley
With a sturdy right-handed frame, three pitches that grade as plus to plus-plus, clean mechanics and an aggressive pitching style on the mound, Bradley is a prototypical ace-level pitching prospect. His fastball is an elite, MLB-caliber offering right now, and both his changeup and curveball are being refined, but are still quite good. He was absolutely dominant between High-A and Double-A in 2013, throwing for a combined 1.84 ERA and striking out 119 batters in 123.1 innings. Bradley keeps the ball in the park – an important attribute for someone who will call Chase Field home – and is poised to begin the season in Triple-A. While the Dbacks have decent rotation depth, they lack high-upside arms and Bradley figures to see MLB time at some point in 2014.
The case against Bradley
There are three simple factors that conspire against Bradley ranking ahead of Walker on fantasy lists. For one, Bradley’s command is well behind his stuff and his makeup – he walked 59 batters last season, and put up a WHIP of 1.23 in Double-A. Secondly, Bradley isn’t going to start the season in the majors, whereas Walker most likely will. Bradley has the talent to force his way to the majors this season – especially with Arizona sending Tyler Skaggs to the Angels – but Pat Corbin, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, Bronson Arroyo and Randal Delgado still block Bradley’s path. And finally, Bradley will play in a park that favors offense, albeit not to an absurd Colorado-like level. Still, there are contextual factors at play here that serve as red flags for Bradley in 2014.
The case for Walker
Walker was electric enough in 2013 to reach the majors and make three starts there, earning his first MLB win and impressing by striking out 12 and allowing six earned runs in 15 innings. Walker’s bread and butter is his filthy fastball-cutter combination, and both pitches grade out as 70 offerings on the scouting sale. Ironically, Walker’s once-loved curveball is now viewed as just an average pitch, but he’s developing a changeup that could give him a No. 1 starter tool kit to work with if it rounds into form. Unlike Bradley, Walker is all but assured a spot in the rotation for 2014, and unlike Walker he’ll pitch in a very favorably home ballpark. There will be some bumps in the road, but he’s not a bad bet to finish as a top-50 SP option this season.
The case against Walker
Like Bradley, Walker’s command is behind the development of his arsenal right now, and his WHIP could be a bit prohibitive from a fantasy standpoint. While Walker’s arm action is seductive and he’s more than athletic enough to repeat his delivery consistently, he doesn’t always do so just yet and he’s posted some less-than-stellar BB rates in the minors as a result. Walker’s cutter is going to cover up a lot of sins, but if neither of his off-speed pitches takes a jump forward, MLB hitters are going to be able to sit on his fastball, which he sometimes leaves up in the zone. The general consensus among prospect analysts and scouts seems to be that while Bradley and walker both have No. 1 upside, Bradley is a bit more likely to develop into a top-10 SP, while Walker may have to settle for playing Robin to King Felix’s Batman.