The Tampa Bay Rays drafted right-hand pitcher Taj Bradley in the fifth-round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of well-known Redan High School in Stone Mountain, GA.
The belief was at some point in the near future he could be a top-end starter or maybe even the ace of the Rays staff.
But it was going to require some patience with the rangy 17-year-old, who spent his first two years in Rookie ball. In 2021 after some Rays brass began to question the pick Bradley, soared and proved he was worthy of the hype that preceded him.
Taj Bradley is the ace of the Minors.
The Rays prospect wins the Top Starting Pitcher MiLBY!
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) November 9, 2021
Bradley Struggled Early: Position Change Played A Role
Bradley was more interested in playing the outfield until his senior year in high school. But he’d shown enough in spot duty on the mound that had MLB clamoring. However, Bradley’s first appearance in the minors wasn’t impressive. In fact, his first minor league field coordinator Michael Johns had this to say.
“I remember when Taj showed up on campus he was 17 years old, and I think he was throwing 86, 87, 88 (MPH). We’re all kinda scratching our heads like, Ooookaaaay.”
That wasn’t enough for the Rays to turn away from, as they stuck with the talented but very raw Bradley. Just like most prospects, especially those who come straight from the high school game, they need time.
Bradley took baby steps in 2018 and 2019, but flourished in 2021, dominating at both Class A Charleston (S.C.) and Bowling Green (KY). In those two spots Bradley went a combined 12-3 while boasting a 1.83 ERA (best in the minors). He struck out 123 batters and walked only 31 in just over 103 innings of work.
That development catapulted Bradley into the Top 100 of three prospect ranking sites, The Athletic, Baseball America and ESPN. They even mentioned he had what it takes to become one of the Rays “great ones.”
Taj Bradley takes the phrase "student of the game" to another level.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 6, 2022
Bradley Used 2020 Pandemic Season To Make Changes: Lost 20 Pounds While Maturing Mentally As Well
Prior to the 2020 season, Bradley ate pizza as often as he could and just didn’t have good nutritional habits. He had an epiphany during the canceled 2020 pandemic season. That’s when he put the work in and started getting into better shape
Johns had this to say about Bradley’s transformation ….
“All of a sudden, his body just forms and he gets bigger and stronger. He’s just a man on the mound. He just keeps getting better. It’s crazy.
“Some guys hit a plateau and you’re like, how do we get over that hump? And it’s, like, every week, every month, every year, he just keeps getting better and better. And not just with the (velocity), but with the pitch ability and secondary stuff, and his coachability. Just a tremendous, tremendous kid.”
“Taj Bradley is a stud.”
On top of losing 20 pounds Bradley mentions how he increased the velocity on his fastball and added to his pitching bag.
The Rays' Taj Bradley became a whole new pitcher last year.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) January 8, 2022
All of those things are exactly why he’s rated No.70 on MLB Pipeline and is the Rays’ third-highest ranked prospect. With his improved conditioning, delivery and continually growing maturity, Bradley is expected to join the Rays in 2023. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of David Price, “Big Game” James Shields, Blake Snell, and Chris Archer as great Rays hurlers.