There was a time, Medford’s Braden Shipley admits, when he was preoccupied with achieving his dream of playing in the major leagues.
That time is no more, however, for the former North Medford High and University of Nevada standout.
Since being drafted 15th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, Shipley has held up his end as the organization’s top prospect — with a minor bump or two along the way — and finds himself on the cusp of the MLB as a leading pitcher in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League for the Reno Aces.
Shipley is now focused on the journey and feels more comfortable than ever as a starting pitcher. It comes from a tweak in his mental approach, offseason work on refining his pitches and taking care of the little things when it comes to his daily approach.
“I feel really good about where I’m at right now and feel confident I could go up to the big leagues and pitch well right now,” said the 24-year-old right-hander. “Hopefully it’s just a matter of time but, until then, I’m just going to keep working and enjoying this time in my life.”
In his first season at the Triple-A level, Shipley has posted a 7-4 record with a 3.69 ERA, which ranks eighth in the PCL. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound pitcher leads the PCL with 107⅓ innings pitched and has 68 strikeouts against only 18 walks in the hitter-friendly league.
On Monday, Shipley rebounded from one of his worst outings of the summer with one of his best.
In a 6-3 win over Tacoma in front of a franchise-record 10,520 fans in Reno, Shipley equaled a season and career high for innings en route to his seventh win, yielding eight hits and two runs with no walks and two strikeouts in eight innings.
In his previous outing June 27 against El Paso, he allowed 13 hits and eight runs in four innings.
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” Shipley said of pitching in the PCL. “Now that it’s actually warmed up, I’ve really got a taste of what the PCL is like. The situation’s definitely different. You see a lot more 15-12 ballgames than you would in other leagues, but I think most of it’s mental for a lot of pitchers. If you kind of go out there and tell yourself, ‘Don’t give up a home run,’ you know what’s probably going to happen is you give up a home run, that’s just the way your body works.”
For the record, Shipley has given up a respectable six home runs this summer for the Aces, who are 44-40 and within 2½ games of first-place Tacoma in the Pacific Northern Division.
Shipley has also been selected to represent the Aces in the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 13 in North Carolina. The game, which will be televised live on the MLB Network at 4:05 p.m. PDT, pits 30 players from the 16 PCL teams against the International League All-Stars.
It will be the first league All-Star appearance for Shipley, who was also selected to play in the 2014 MLB Futures All-Star Game.
“I was really excited to find out I’d been chosen for the All-Star game because I’ve never had that honor before,” said Shipley, who enjoyed another first when he was PCL pitcher of the week for April 25-May 1. “I’m proud of myself, too, because I put in the work for it and that’s the most important thing. Seeing things pay off a little bit is always nice.”
That said, Shipley is steadily trying to pace himself with hopes and expectations.
“I think last year I thought about the big league call-up too much and lost track of what I was trying to do personally with my own pitching and all that,” he noted, “so I think this year I’ve grown from that and just been able to go out there and just have fun playing baseball.”
Part of Shipley’s growth has come from challenging himself to choose between the pitcher he thought he should be and the pitcher that will have more lasting potential in the major leagues.
He has given up a little velocity on his fastball — in the mid-90s to start his professional career — to be able to locate the pitch more. Shipley has always had a plus-changeup in his back pocket and, with a steady curveball, has also developed a sinker that has allowed his groundball rate to be the highest it’s ever been.
“I think that’s the biggest step I had to take, learning what pitcher I wanted to be and doing everything I can to do that and become a better pitcher,” said Shipley. “One thing I’ve done a good job of at every level is take bits and pieces of advice I’ve been given to put it all together and make a magic formula of who I am as a pitcher. Our organization is just loaded with baseball knowledge up and down, and I couldn’t be more lucky to be part of it all.”
The competitor in Shipley has him wanting to already be part of what he sees as an exciting collection of talent in Arizona, but he’s also happy with where he is in Reno and realizes that everyone’s path to the major leagues is different.
“I’m not in a lot of conversations with the organization but I know they have a plan for me,” said Shipley. “We have some really great guys in the front office and they have a lot of baseball knowledge, so I know they have a plan and when it’s the right time they’re going to give me my shot. Hopefully that time’s pretty soon but spending a summer in Reno is not the worst thing either. I’m just happy playing baseball. If you get too caught up in moving up and doing all that stuff, you just kind of lose focus of what you’re trying to do. The bottom line is just having fun playing baseball with your teammates.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry