Nevada's Shipley maturing into total package
Baseball America's Golden Spikes Spotlight
In three decades at Nevada, Gary Powers has coached 24 future big leaguers, including six pitchers. Four of those players became second-round picks, but he had never coached a first-rounder -- until now. Nevada junior right-hander Braden Shipley is a first-round lock, with a real chance to be drafted inside the top 10 overall picks.
"He's as good as any I've had here," Powers said. "He's at the top of the list, that's for sure."
Shipley threw just 10 innings as a freshman in 2011, posting an 8.71 ERA. Even though Nevada's coaches expected his future to be on the mound when they recruited him, the team had a hole to fill at shortstop in 2011, and the ultra-athletic Shipley wound up being their best option at that position. He started 44 games that year, hitting .287/.370/.375 to earn second team all-Western Athletic Conference honors as a shortstop.
"But we knew that's not where we wanted to play him," Powers said. "We wanted to use him as a pitcher, because that's what we got him for."
As a sophomore, Shipley established himself as one of the WAC's best pitchers, going 9-4 with a 2.20 ERA, 88 strikeouts and 40 walks in 98 innings. He followed that breakout spring with a strong summer as a closer in the Alaska League, where he ranked as the circuit's No. 1 prospect.
Shipley entered the season with plenty of buzz, and he has handled it with aplomb, going 7-2 with a 2.49 ERA, 78 strikeouts and 27 walks through 87 innings. He threw 6 2/3 shutout innings in a win against San Diego State this past weekend.
"I've got to tip my hat to him," Powers said. "He hasn't let all this attention he's getting distract him from what he's trying to do for our team. He's very good that way. He's accepted a leadership role; he leads by example. He's an emotional guy, and he's a good clubhouse guy, too."
And his stuff is electrifying, of course. Scouts have seen his fastball velocity reach 98 mph, and he sits consistently at 93-96 with minimal effort. He also owns a true out pitch in his changeup, which he throws with the same arm speed and arm action as his fastball. He'll throw it at any time against any hitter, right-handed or left-handed.
"He's got arguably one of the best right-handed changeups in the country -- and that's including the Major Leagues," a National League area scout said. "It's a devastating pitch, a separator. And I think his breaking ball could be a plus pitch in the future. It's a true curveball, late and hard, and I've seen it up to 79-80 [mph], but there are also times you see it floating in at 74-75."
Powers said Shipley has always been able to spin a promising curveball, but he has improved his command of it this year. He has also improved his fastball command; he still overthrows at times, but he is learning to step back and get back into rhythm when that happens.
Scouts love Shipley's athleticism, easy arm action and prototypical 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame. A cousin of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley, Braden's athletic ability and instincts also make him an outstanding defensive pitcher.
"He makes everybody else better around him; he can field his position as well as anybody I've ever seen," Powers said. "He comes off the mound and makes plays on drag bunts that most people can't even think about. He's pretty special when it comes to that."
In short, Shipley is the whole package, especially if his breaking ball continues to become more consistent. Powers said his emergence as an elite prospect is a testament to his work ethic. He has added muscle to his lean frame and learned how to refine his repertoire.
"It's fun to see because we had a skinny, lanky shortstop who dabbled in pitching, and he's gotten bigger and stronger -- all of a sudden he's a dude," the scout said. "It's so fun to see that happen. It's fun to watch guys mature."
Read more from Aaron Fitt's weekly Three Strikes column.