Bradley Emerges As Georgia Tech's Latest Ace
DURHAM, N.C.—The tall lefthander starting to warm up in the bullpen at Georgia Tech's fall prospect camp in 2007 caught coach Danny Hall's eye just as he was about to leave Russ Chandler Stadium. Hall didn't recognize the pitcher, but 6-foot-4 lefthanders don't come around every day. He knew he at least had to talk to the kid.
"Where are you from?" Hall asked.
"Huntsville, Alabama; but I grew up in Michigan."
This was Jed Bradley, Hall realized. His coach at Huntsville High had called Hall to tell him Bradley was coming, but he didn't know much about the lankly lefthander. Hall's next question to a potential recruit is always about grades and SAT scores. The numbers Bradley quoted him were good enough, and he made the decision to stay at the stadium a little longer and watch him throw. His son's football game would have to wait.
Skipping that football game was a fortuitous decision. A few weeks later Georgia Tech offered Bradley a scholarship, which he accepted. Three years later, Bradley has developed into one of the best pitchers in the country. The second-team preseason All-American was 4-2, 2.98 with 78 strikeouts and 22 walks in 60 innings, living up to the buzz he built up last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he was named the No. 4 prospect.
After watching Bradley toy with his lineup in a no-decision on April 2, Duke coach Sean McNally marveled at Bradley's growth over the last three years.
"I think he's terrific," McNally said. "I just think he's special."
Bradley was undrafted out of high school. When he arrived in Atlanta in the fall of 2008, he weighed 180-190 pounds and was throwing in the mid-80s. His development since then has been remarkable. Bradley now weighs 220 pounds and reaches 94 mph. He will likely be a first-round pick in June, possibly among the first five picks of the draft. One scouting director told Baseball America he would take Bradley over any college pitcher, high praise given the wealth of college pitching in this year's draft.
Hall attributes Bradley's growth as a pitcher to his work ethic and the Georgia Tech coaching staff. With strength and conditioning coach Steve Tamborra's guidance, Bradley got into a weightlifting program that helped him bulk up and increase his velocity. Pitching coach Tom Kinkelaar worked on Bradley's slider. Bradley spent last summer in Cape Cod working on his changeup, which has become a key part of his arsenal.
Perhaps most important, however, has been Bradley's growing confidence in his own abilities and his aggressive approach.
"Just not giving hitters too much credit, for one," Bradley said. "Just attacking the strike zone, commanding your pitches, letting your stuff work for you."
A Leading Role
Part of the credit for Bradley's maturation also goes to former Yellow Jackets ace Deck McGuire. For two years Bradley sat in the dugout every Friday night and watched McGuire dominate. He spent the other six days of the week watching McGuire, who was picked No. 11 overall by the Blue Jays last year, demonstrate the kind of work ethic necessary to become one of the best pitchers in the country.
"Being able to watch Deck go out there every Friday night and do what he did was pretty big for me," Bradley said. "Deck was a guy that commanded four pitches and could get anybody out with any one of those pitches at any time. That was just encouraging to see over the last two years."
Now Bradley is a role model for the rest of the staff. "They get a chance to watch how hard he works, how he goes about his business, and that makes everyone better," Hall said.
Before his start against Duke, Bradley's work began with light tossing with the Georgia Tech bat boy. He progressed though stretching and long toss in the outfield until it was time to take the mound in the bullpen.
The Georgia Tech catcher arrived and Bradley began to throw, using the effortless delivery he has employed for years. He was eventually joined by Kinkelaar, there to supervise his latest future first-rounder.
Then, cutting through the bullpen's silence, Kinkelaar suggested a fix for Bradley's changeup: "Get on top."
Bradley kept throwing, a streak of dirt beginning to show on his white cleats from where his left toe dragged across the mound, the ball now darting through the strike zone.
"Very good, good adjustment."
A few pitches later, Bradley said he was ready and he bounded off the mound. Kinkelaar handed him his jacket and Bradley walked toward the dugout, ready for the next challenge.