When the Arizona Diamondbacks took Braden Shipley with the 15th-overall pick of this year’s draft, they brought on board a pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and a high ceiling. They also acquired a student of the game. The 21-year-old University of Nevada-Reno product can overmatch hitters, but he has the mentality of a power-pitching technician.
Shipley’s advanced feel for his craft is especially impressive considering his relative inexperience. A native of Medford, Ore., the right-hander didn’t begin pitching until his junior year of high school. During his freshman year at Nevada, Shipley was primarily a shortstop.
Shipley — who split his first professional season between short-season Hillsboro and Low-A South Bend — talked about his game earlier this month.
Shipley on his pitching approach: “I’m kind of in that group who can consider themselves power pitchers. I like to pitch off my fastball. It’s probably the best pitch I have; it’s 96 miles per hour. I try to establish that and make them beat me. I’m not flipping curveballs in there and throwing many changeups. I’m challenging hitters. If they get a base hit, they get a base hit. It’s going to happen. It’s part of the game.
“The next time through the order, I’ll start mixing it up a bit. But I like sticking with the fact that I’m a power pitcher. Our pitching coordinators and staff are always telling me, ‘Don’t get beat throwing your secondary stuff. Challenge them with the fastball, it‘s your best pitch.’ One thing I’ve done this year is develop a power sinker.”
On his two-seam fastball: “My sophomore year, I went away from my two-seam, It wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do, so I stuck solely with my four-seam fastball. This last year — my junior year — I brought back the two-seam, because I knew I was going to need it at the next level. I knew I’d need to get that movement. And it started really diving for me. I like to throw it inside to righties, and away from left-handed hitters to get them to roll over. It’s not something I throw all the time — I still throw my four-seam fastball — but I’ll mix them up so they’re not seeing the same velocity, or the same fastball, every time.”
On changing speeds on his fastballs: “Sometimes [the two- and four-seam fastballs] vary by a couple miles per hour. Other times my two-seam will be the exact same speed as my four-seam. That’s something I’m trying to work on, and it’s a matter of perfecting the grip. I already have the movement I want, so maybe it’s just a little adjustment, like moving my thumb on the side of the ball. I don’t know exactly what it is yet, but I’m trying to get them to vary by a few miles per hour. I used to be a hitter, and I know when I saw the same fastball over and over, it was a lot easier to get my timing down. That’s one of the things I’ve been working on.”
On maintaining velocity: “I threw about 110 innings in college this year, and another 65 in pro ball. I didn’t really see too much difference in my velocity, although it did drop a few miles per hour. I was kind of expecting it to, because of the five-day rotation and throwing every day. That was something new to me, so I wasn’t shocked by my velocity dropping a couple miles per hour.
“You’ll see guys drop in velocity. Sometimes the organization says, ‘Hey, we want you to be more of a control guy. We want you to command the strike zone a little bit better.’ Other times it’s just the workload. But I’m always doing something to keep my arm strength up, and I always have the mentality that I’m going to throw hard.
“I’m not a max effort guy. I’m a fairly easy type pitcher, but I can max effort if I want. I’m able to bring my fastball velocity up if I want to. I like to sit in one range, but toward the end of games, I like to have a little left in the tank so I can bump my fastball up.”
On his throwing program: “The throwing program I’m on now just consists of me throwing every day [during the season]. I won’t start throwing until mid December this offseason. I think my arm needs a little break from college. I’ve played pretty much year round and have been throwing the whole time.
“Throwing every day helps build arm strength. But they’re not telling me to go out and throw 180 feet every day. It’s kind of based on how my arm feels that day. I do like to incorporate a little long toss here and there; I think it’s good for the arm. Other than that, it’s not a whole lot different from college. My college coach, Pat Flury, played 12 years professionally, so he knew what the routine was. He built me up for the next level while I was in college.”
On his changeup and curveball: “My change is kind of a variation of a four-seam circle, although I change the grip a little bit. It’s almost in a box or a rectangular shape, as opposed to a circle. I have a really light grip and turn the ball a little in my hand — I pronate it a little so I can get that good sinking action and run it away from left-handed hitters. It’s probably one of my better pitches.
“This summer was big for my curveball. I made it a plus pitch for me. It’s my second-best pitch now, but my changeup is really close behind. I can get a lot of guys out with my curveball. I’ll use it as a strikeout pitch.
“In college, I threw my changeup far more than I threw my curveball. That was kind of different. When I first started pitching, my curveball was always my best pitch, but then I developed the changeup and kind of got away from my curveball. The curveball has been a big development process for me. I worked on it a lot, and got back the good bite I used to have. It’s not very loopy. It’s more of a late, quick break. It’s pretty firm, like a true curveball, as opposed to a big sweeping curveball.
“My curveball can be different in different counts. I can throw one where I’m really just looking for a strike to get ahead of a hitter, and then I have my put-away curveball, which is going to be a little firmer and have a little more bite to it. My curveball is usually about 80-84. My changeup usually sits between 85 and 87.”
On mechanics and feel: “When I went down to instructional league, the primary thing they had me work on was getting the ball out a bit little cleaner. They wanted me to have a little smoother delivery and have everything going at the same time. They wanted me to get my hand out a little earlier so there’s no pause. That helped get me more consistent in the zone.
“My curveball is definitely a feel pitch, and I started to get a better feel for it when I got to pro ball, especially when I got to South Bend. Finger pressure is part of it. I throw a spike curveball, so it’s a little bit different. It’s a little harder to control at times, but I’ve kind of got it to where I know where my finger positioning needs to be — what kind of pressure I need to have — and what arm slot I need to get the break I want, and the velocity.”
On what he learned about pitching while playing shortstop: “When I was playing short, it was mostly about seeing a hitter’s approach against the pitcher. I always liked to know what we were throwing on every pitch. I communicated with the pitcher and catcher so I’d know what signs we were using, and what sequences we were using. That way I could time things and read swings better to get a better jump on the ball.
“As far as learning more about pitching, I think that’s really just one of those thing you need to do. You need to pitch in order to learn how to pitch. Once I started pitching more often, I began to learn what to throw in a count, in different situations. Same thing for a shortstop. You have to learn to read swings so you can get better jumps on the ball. You learn by playing the position a lot more than you do by watching.”
On pitch selection: “Catchers are usually on the same page as the pitcher, but sometimes you’ll have your differences. I think it’s what the pitcher wants to throw, as well what the plan is. You go into the game having a plan, and the catchers should know their pitchers well — they should know what their best pitch is that day. But I think their perception is sometimes a little different than what the pitcher is thinking at a given time.
“I never want to throw something I’m uncomfortable with. The bottom line is that I’m trying to get an out, so I want to throw what I think is my best pitch. If it’s not what the catcher thinks, then so be it. I think any pitcher would say they’re going to want to throw what’s coming out good that day, and what they’re getting outs with. But that’s where you have to get on the same page with the catcher. You talk about it, because you have the same goal. You want the out. You want to get out of the inning.”