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Draft  | Story  | 5/8/2013

Moving up on the mound

Jeff Dahn     
Photo: John Byrne

Braden Shipley was recognized as a special two-way player early in his development as a ballplayer at North Medford High School in Medford, Ore. A right-handed pitcher and top-notch shortstop, it was widely believed he could do both once he reached college, even at the NCAA Division I level.

The 2009 Perfect Game West Uncommitted-November Showcase in Mesa, Ariz., was the only Perfect Game event that Shipley attended, but he made an impression. He was named the top prospect at the event and a PG scout wrote:

“Shipley is a quality 2-way prospect with loads of Division I quality tools on both sides of the ball. His best ceiling appears to be on the mound, where he topped out at 90 mph with a hard spinning, mid-70s curveball, but the 6-1, 170-pound athlete can hit as well.”

Perfect Game ranked Shipley the No. 374 national prospect in his high school class of 2010 after he graduated from North Medford High, and he went undrafted out of high school. He had originally committed to Western Nevada College (a junior college) and considered an offer from Oregon State before deciding to join head coach Gary Powers at the University of Nevada in Reno.

Powers and his staff recruited Shipley as a pitcher but also told him he would be given the chance to play shortstop if the opportunity presented itself. Due to changes within the Wolf Pack’s roster during his freshman year, Shipley was moved into the starting shortstop position simply because he was Powers’ best option at the time.

“We needed him to play shortstop and really he was the only guy that could adequately play there, and he did a tremendous job,” Powers told PG this week. “But our initial intention was that we saw his potential as a pitcher and that’s what we wanted him to do.”

Shipley responded by becoming one of the Pack’s leading hitters in 2011, batting .287 (39-for-136) with nine extra-base hits and 19 RBI while playing outstanding defense; he was named second team all-Western Athletic Conference as a shortstop. Shipley also pitched in five games that spring (two starts) and finished 1-0 with an 8.71 ERA in 10 1/3 innings.

“It wasn’t too hard because I had done both in high school,” Shipley said this week of the transition from the mound to fulltime shortstop. “I did feel like coming in that I was going to get a little more pitching time but Coach and I talked … and he needed me to fill that spot. I was just trying to do the best I could to help the team out and at the time that was me playing shortstop.”

At that point in his year-old collegiate career, it probably looked like Shipley’s future was as a position player. But easy now, not so fast.

Shipley came back in the fall of 2011 for his sophomore year and was given an opportunity to work as a starting pitcher every week during the short fall season. He spent very little time at shortstop that fall, although he continued to take batting practice so he could still the swing the bat if called upon.

By the time his sophomore season in 2012 was in the books, Shipley had emerged as the Wolf Pack’s Friday night ace. He finished 9-4 with a 2.20 ERA – the nine wins and ERA led the Western Athletic Conference – and he was named the WAC Pitcher of the Year. His 98 1/3 innings-pitched ranked second in the league and his 88 strikeouts ranked third.

“Going from short to pitching my sophomore year wasn’t too hard for me just because of the fact that I had pitched before and I had done both,” Shipley said. “I like both positions so it was fairly easy to make that transition. I had talked to Coach after my first year here and I told him I wanted to throw on Friday nights. He agreed that was something I had to work for.”

After that breakout season on the mound, Shipley headed to the Great White North to play in the Alaskan Summer League with the Anchorage Bucs. Working as the Bucs’ closer and restricted by an innings-pitched limit of 25 over the entire summer, PG’s national cross-checker Allan Simpson named Shipley the ASL’s Top Prospect.

That recognition came despite the fact Shipley didn’t even work his 25 innings; he threw 17 innings in 17 appearances, picked up seven saves and enjoyed an outstanding 29-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It was in the ASL that Shipley first saw his fastball touch 97 mph. Simpson wrote:

“Though Shipley does not have an overly physical frame, he is very athletic and generates his superior velocity with a very quick arm from a high three-quarters release point, enabling the ball to explode out of his hand.”

“That was a big thing for me,” Shipley said of the ASL experience. “I know that (Powers) was really hesitant about me going up there and throwing because he didn’t want me to log a bunch of innings. But I told him I was going to go up there and close and get 20, 25 innings or so, and work on my breaking ball; I needed to get my feel back for that. I had lost a whole year of pitching my freshman year … and I also needed to put on about 15 or 20 pounds.”

Shipley, listed at 6-foot-3, 190-pounds at Nevada, said early in the summer the velocity on his fastball had jumped to around 95 mph, up from the 92-93 he threw during his sophomore season in Reno. He attributed that increase to his closer role when he could just go out there and “let her rip a little bit.”

“The most important thing was for him to go into the summer and be able to work on what he wanted to work on and not be playing for somebody who was more focused on what he could do for them,” Powers said. “They let him work in the weight room and used him as a closer so he could continue to work on getting stronger and still pitch for them, but not in the same role that he had here.”

A lot was happening quickly for Shipley, and he came into his junior season widely recognized as the top pitching prospect in the WAC; he was ranked as the No. 88 overall prospect in the 2013 MLB amateur draft. He didn’t disappoint: after his first 12 starts this season, Shipley stood 7-2 with a 2.49 ERA, with a 78-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 86 2/3 innings.

“He’s such a tremendous three-pitch guy; he’s got three pitches that he can throw at any time for strikes,” Powers said. “It’s all to his credit. He’s worked extremely hard on all the little things that make a difference and he’s stayed committed to that. It’s his commitment, his work ethic and his dedication to continually trying to find ways to get better.

“His intentions are to pitch in the big leagues someday – not to just go and play professional baseball but to pitch in the big leagues someday. He’s always looking for things that will help him have a better chance of doing that.”

The scouting community certainly took notice of Shipley’s improvement and PG’s Simpson jumped him up to No. 17 overall in the latest 2013 draft prospect rankings (up from his previous position at No. 88). PG national scouting supervisor Todd Gold named Shipley the No. 1 prospect in this year’s draft with ties to Nevada. Gold wrote:

“His stuff isn’t quite as electric as the power arms that are projected for the top five picks but Shipley’s stuff is strong in its own right and his ability to utilize it will likely make him a first round pick.”

In Perfect Game’s first mock draft published on April 18, Baseball Prospectus’ Nick Faleris, representing the Kansas City Royals, selected Shipley with the No. 8 overall pick, For his part, Shipley has completed almost all of his coursework for the school year and is now able to focus on nothing but baseball and his future, which includes his rising draft status.

“It was actually a big surprise to me,” he said of his rise in the rankings. “Not being drafted out of high school; that was what I wanted. I knew I had to develop – I was a small kid coming out of high school, only about 160 pounds or so, so I knew I had to fill out and develop. After last summer I kind of figured I might get some mentions for maybe the first 10 rounds or so, but it’s still kind of unreal to me that I’m getting mentioned as possibly going in the first round. I’m super excited about it and really excited to see what happens.”

Powers, who has been the head coach at Nevada for the last 30 years, takes a little more of a wait-and-see approach:

“That’s totally out of everybody’s control,” he said. “I know how that works and I’ve seen goods and bads come out of that, so we can only control what we can control and he can only control what he can control, and that’s all his focus is on until that day comes. All he can do is go out and do what he does every day, and he does it pretty well.”

Shipley’s three years in Reno have breezed by like a warm Friday night. He progressed from all-conference shortstop as a freshman to WAC Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore to potential first-round draft pick as a junior. His ceiling is so high it needs wings and the three years he spent in Reno will always be near and dear to him.

“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of help from my pitching coach (Pat Flury) and he’s really helped me progress and develop as a pitcher. The atmosphere with all the guys here is great … and all the coaches are very helpful; I’ve built a lot of great relationships.”