One year removed from being drafted in the first round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Medford's Braden Shipley appears to already be living up to the promise he showed as a collegiate pitcher for the University of Nevada.
Labeled as the organization's No. 2 prospect in the minor leagues to begin this season, Shipley has backed that up with his work on the mound and has continued to impress each step of the way as he climbs through the Diamondbacks' system.
WHO: A 6-foot-3, 190-pound pitcher for the Advanced-A Visalia Rawhide, a minor league franchise in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
Proof of his impressive abilities came earlier this month when the former North Medford High standout was named to ESPN analyst Keith Law's list of top 25 prospects overall — one of only two Diamondback products on that list — and the honors just keep pouring in.
Most recently, the 22-year-old right-hander was named to the USA roster for the 2014 All-Star Futures Game set July 13 at Target Field in Minneapolis, the site of the 2014 MLB All-Star Game.
"It's exciting and it's a big deal to me because it was a goal of mine to make it on that Futures Game roster," Shipley said Thursday night. "Obviously there's a lot of players that want to make that game and be part of that because it's a big-time prospect deal. For me, it's just great that all the hard work I put in and hours have kind of paid off. It just shows that hard work really pays off in the long run."
Entering Friday's road game against the San Jose Giants, whom Shipley beat 2-1 last Sunday, the Visalia Rawhide pitcher was 1-1 with a 2.81 ERA in four starts since advancing from Class A South Bend. In 252/3 innings in the hitter-friendly California League, Shipley has struck out 34 with only 10 walks.
In Indiana, he was 4-2 with a 3.74 ERA in eight starts.
"I'm happy with the season so far and with what I've been able to do," he said. "Hopefully I can just keep progressing and getting better every outing. Really my main goal is to show the organization what I can do. I don't feel they doubt my abilities or tools and I feel like they know I have the stuff to pitch in the big leagues, mainly for them it's about me getting experience pitching at this level."
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Shipley said he made it a goal of his to be named to the Futures roster prior to this season and when the news finally came in, he was ecstatic. Top Diamondbacks prospect Archie Bradley (12th on Law's list) pitched in the elite event last year.
"It kind of gives me an opportunity to show what I have in front of all those top prospects and kind of put myself in a good position to be successful," said Shipley, who is No. 23 on Law's list released June 1. "I'm very excited about (the Futures game), it's going to be a lot of fun to play in."
Even with all the buzz surrounding Shipley, who was chosen 15th overall last year, he said it's been important to remain grounded and rely on his work ethic.
"Being the No. 2 prospect kinda takes some weight off your shoulders in a sense because you're on a little higher scale than some of the other guys," he said, "but, at the same time, I'm not the kind of person to treat it like that at all. I play the game and go about everything as if I was a 40th-round pick and this was my last day of baseball because it can end at any time and it wouldn't be fair to the other guys if I slacked off and was getting special treatment and they're working hard. I have to make sure I'm working harder than everybody every day."
In his most recent outing, Shipley was able to outduel San Francisco's No. 20 prospect Kendry Flores for a 2-1 victory over San Jose. Shipley struck out a career-high 10 over seven shutout innings, scattering five hits with two walks. As good of a feeling as that may have been, the rigors of professional life were on Shipley's shoulders Thursday night as he geared up to face the Giants again.
"It's going to be a battle because they already know what I have to offer," he said, "so I'm going to have to still throw my game but, at the same time, find another trick up my sleeve to get batters out."
A year of concentrating solely on baseball definitely has helped round Shipley's pitching form, and mentality, into shape. He can still run his fastball up to around 98 miles per hour when necessary, but has settled mostly in to ranging from 90-95 mph most nights with considerably more control and fluidity of motion. Shipley's staggering changeup was a featured pitch among those looking to acquire his services last year and remains strong, but he said what has been a separator this year is the improvement in his curveball.
"It's kind of become a wipeout pitch for me," said Shipley, "and that's one of the things at the end of last year the organization really wanted me to work on and was pushing for. All three of those pitches feel great right now and I'm feeling really good about my preparation."
Those feelings transcend the act of throwing his pitches, it also includes the mental side of the game.
"One of the big things that's changed from last year is my overall demeanor toward pitching and how I pitch batters," he said. "I feel like I'm a little bit smarter in a sense, where I go into the games a lot more prepared with what I need to do to a team today and how these guys have certain holes in their swings. I feel like I've developed a little more baseball savvy to where I'm just able to adjust and that's one of the biggest things. It's a game of adjustments and hitters and pitchers both need to do it, and I think I've been able to adjust between outings."
Another adjustment — albeit a welcomed one — has come off the field for Shipley, who got engaged in January to Yorba Linda, Calif., native Dana Holt, whom he met while at Nevada. Shipley said Holt, a four-year letter-winner as a setter in volleyball for the Wolfpack, has been busy settling into their townhouse in Medford and checking venues for a wedding that likely will take place around November 2015.
"We're both really excited and happy," said Shipley.
Given all he's got going for him these days, that's definitely an understatement.