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Shipley to open at Triple-A Reno Aces

Medford’s Braden Shipley will open his third full season in the minor league system at the Triple-A level Saturday, but a shot at making his major league debut before the 2016 campaign is complete isn’t out of the question.

Shipley, a 2010 North Medford High graduate, is considered the top prospect in Arizona’s farm system after being drafted 15th overall by the Diamondbacks in 2013. The Reno Aces open play Thursday in a four-game series against the El Paso Chihuahuas, and Shipley is expected to pitch the third game.

The right-handed pitcher took part in his second major league spring training recently before being assigned to the minor league camp in mid-March.

Last Thursday, he took the loss against Colorado as Arizona wrapped up play at its spring training site in Scottsdale, Ariz., with the 24-year-old starter allowing five runs on eight hits through five innings. He struck out three with one walk against the Rockies’ regulars, then was assigned to Triple-A Reno following the game.

Former Grants Pass High standout infielder Brandon Drury, tabbed the No. 3 prospect in Arizona’s system, earned one of the final spots on the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day roster after the former 13th-round pick hit .389 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in spring training.

Drury was locked in a battle for the starting spot at third base or second base in the spring and expects to see time in both spots off the bench.

Since being drafted in 2013, Shipley gradually moved up to the Double-A level last year and posted a 9-11 record and 3.50 ERA over 28 games. He struggled with mechanics last May before righting the ship to finish strong with a 6-5 record and 2.66 ERA over his final 14 appearances (13 starts).

“I think last year in the second half, I kind of figured out who I was as a pitcher and used that,” Shipley told MiLB.com in March, “and it played to my strengths with my stuff. I was able to put some good starts together.”

Scouting reports tag Shipley with three above-average pitches in his fastball, curveball and changeup, but his overall command is what lags. The fact that Arizona held onto Shipley, who is a top-75 prospect overall, during a busy offseason of trades shows the Diamondbacks’ faith in him as someone who can help the big-league team sooner rather than later.

Shipley, who was vying for the fifth rotation spot before being sent down, said he spent part of spring training getting to know top-tier trade acquisitions Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller and made it a point to try and learn a little bit from them each day.

In Reno, he’ll be joined in the rotation by Arizona’s No. 2 prospect, right-hander Archie Bradley, as well as No. 10 prospect Tyler Wagner. In all, five of Arizona’s top 15 prospects, according to MLB.com, appear on Reno’s roster. Bradley made the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day roster last year and started strong at 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA before having his season derailed by getting hit in the head with a line drive.

“I’m really excited about our club’s athleticism,” eighth-year Aces manager Phil Nevin said to MiLB.com. “We should have a very fun team to watch.”

Nevin told the Nevada Appeal that he had seen Shipley pitch a few outings in the spring and that “he is throwing to be a leader. He has done a fine job in his outings.”

That said, pitching in Reno can be a challenge given the elevation, dry air and power-packed lineups in the Pacific Coast League. Should all go as planned during his turn in his former collegiate stomping grounds, Shipley could be part of Arizona’s plans for the second half or stretch run later this season.

“They have a good plan for me,” said Shipley, who married longtime girlfriend Dana in the offseason, to MiLB.com. “I kind of had a feeling of when I was going to go down.”

Shipley logged 156⅔ innings last year in Double-A Mobile, Ala., striking out 118 batters and walking 56. Playing for three affiliates in 2014, he combined for a 7-8 record and 3.86 ERA with 127 strikeouts and 42 walks in 126 innings.

At the University of Nevada, Shipley was the 2012 Western Athletic Conference pitcher of the year and the 2013 Mountain West Conference co-pitcher of the year.

The Aces played an exhibition against Nevada Tuesday.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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