Is Braden Shipley a sleeper for the Royals’ rotation or bullpen?

With baseball news and content understandably slow due to the lack of baseball, SB Nation Royals blog Royal Review (probably the best independent Royals blog out there), posted this bit on their Twitter on Wednesday afternoon:

Royals GM Dayton Moore didn’t do much when it came to upgrading their pitching this off-season. Despite a robust free agent market and some payroll flexibility, Moore sought instead to find “reclamation” projects who could provide some upside without costing too much contract-wise. The major deals most Royals focused on were the Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland pickups, as both pitchers were former closers who were looking to bounce back after issues with injuries and ineffectiveness the past couple of seasons. Rosenthal has already made the Royals’ 40-man, as Eric Skoglund was designated for assignment to make room for Rosenthal shortly before MLB froze rosters. That being said, while he hasn’t made the roster officially, it seems likely that Holland will also join the Royals as well, with Scott Blewett and Jesse Hahn being candidates to be released from the 40-man to make room for Holland once MLB allows clubs to make transactions again.

That being said, Shipley is an interesting story who should not be taken lightly in 2020, whenever the season should continue. Shipley is a former first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks and could benefit from a change in ballpark environment (Chase Field is not necessarily the friendliest for pitchers) as well as a transition to the American League from the National League. Furthermore, at 28-years-old, he could be seen as a nice holdover piece in the bullpen or rotation until top prospects such as Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and maybe Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic are ready to pitch in Kansas City by mid-to-late 2020 or early 2021. That being said, if Shipley does want to make an impact in his new organization, he will need to show something different or better in order to contribute to a Royals pitching staff that is looking to improve after a mediocre 2018 and 2019.

Shipley was drafted in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of the University of Nevada-Reno expected to contribute to a Diamondbacks rotation that looks pretty crazy on paper. Around that time he was drafted and in 2014, Shipley was expected to join a Diamondbacks rotation that would consist of Aaron Blair, Archie Bradley, and Touki Toussaint. Furthermore, the Diamondbacks had been known for having an acute eye for pitchers, as they drafted Jarrod Parker, Trevor Bauer, and Tyler Skaggs before trading them to other teams in respective deals. Thus, it was likely that Shipley would continue to prove the Diamondbacks’ strong ability to draft quality pitching.

If anything, the Diamondbacks pitching prospects from 2013-2015 were on the same level of the Royals current crop of pitching prospects, and Shipley was expected to be one of the better arms of the group. Going into 2015, Shipley was rated as a Top 30 prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America (26th) and Baseball Prospectus (22nd), and a Top-40 prospect according Jonathan Mayo of (39th).

Here’s is what Bleacher Report said in their scouting report of Shipley in 2015, whom they rated as the Diamondbacks’ No. 2 prospect in the system, behind only Archie Bradley:

“Braden Shipley, the No. 15 overall pick in the 2013 draft, cruised through three levels last year in his first full pro campaign, beginning at Low-A South Bend before moving up to High-A Visalia and then Double-A Mobile. Between all three stops, the 22-year-old right-hander posted a 3.86 ERA and 127-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 126 innings (22 starts)…The 22-year-old right-hander should continue to move up the ladder in a hurry behind a mid-90s fastball, plus-plus changeup and hard curveball that projects as another plus offering at maturity. More importantly, Shipley demonstrates present command of all three pitches….Ceiling (OFP): 65 (No. 2 or 3 starter) – Medium risk…”

Bleacher Report “Arizona Diamondbacks’ Top 10 Prospects for 2015”, Mike Rosenbaum

Shipley made his debut in 2016, and things started well enough for him as a 24-year-old rookie. He posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in his first two starts when called up in July that year, and a 4.75 ERA and improved 1.35 WHIP in 5 starts and 30.1 innings of work in August. Furthermore, he also had solid starts like the one below against the Mets in 2016:

Shipley’s combination of solid stuff and above average athleticism made him one of the more interesting pitchers not just on the Diamondbacks, but in baseball in general. After all, he initially was an All-WAC shortstop at Nevada before he committed to pitching full time as a sophomore and junior. When you see his hit and his stolen base above, it’s obvious that his athleticism is there, which made him a tantalizing option for the Arizona rotation at the time.

However, as mentioned by the commentator in the video, Shipley struggled to throw strikes consistently on the mound as well as command his pitches effectively, and that came to bite him in the butt in the final month of play in 2016. While he did post a 2.00 K/BB ratio, his best ratio of that year (1.15 in August, 1.60 in July), he posted a 6.04 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 28.1 innings of work that September. Those numbers were mostly amplified by the six home runs he allowed over that time, the most for a single month that year. For the year, Shipley posted a 5.27 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 13 appearances (11 starts) and over 70 innings. While shoulder issues limited his innings the past two seasons (only 174 innings between Arizona and Reno the past two years), his spotty command was the primary factor in terms of why he didn’t see much time at the MLB level (1.61 K/BB ratio in 2018 with Reno and 1.50 K/BB ratio with Arizona in 2018; however, his K/BB ratio improved to 2.38 in 2019 with Reno but that was his third tour of duty in the PCL).

Unfortunately for Shipley, that ended up being his best year. In 2017, Shipley struggled, posting a 5.76 ERA and 1.84 WHIP in only 25 innings of work, and in 2018 and 2019, he only pitched five innings total in Arizona, with a majority of his time spent pitching in the Pacific Coast League with the Reno Aces. Despite Shipley’s initial lofty prospect status, he could never put it together with the Diamondbacks, and Arizona and him eventually parted ways, as he elected for free agency in November of 2019 after it seemed obvious that Shipley wouldn’t return to the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster that Spring.

The story shared on Twitter from Royals Review comes from a Medford, Oregon paper, which is where Shipley grew up. The story has a lot of interesting bits about how Shipley has handled this adversity of being a former first-round pick, and not quite living up to expectations. However, this probably stuck out the most of Tim Trower’s piece:

But this spring day, when he stepped on the rubber for his first live batting practice, looking to his catcher, the skipper peering over his shoulder, Shipley recognized it as a pivotal moment…’In my head,’ said the 2010 North Medford High graduate, ‘I go, all right, here’s your opportunity to make an impression, and I threw a really good live batting practice. My command of the baseball was really good…Two days later, he had another live BP…Again, Matheny shadowed him…The next morning, he was in the weight room — another good impression — when former Royals star Mike Sweeney, working as a special assistant for the team, approached. He asked Shipley if the coaches had said anything to him…“He goes, ‘Dude, you were like 94 to 96,’” said Shipley. “‘It was the easiest 96 mph I’ve ever seen.’ And to hear it from a guy like that, who was a hell of a baseball player, was pretty special.”

Tim Trowers, “Shipley gets a new start with Royals”, Mail Tribune

The fact that Shipley had made a positive impression with the Royals pitching staff should bode him well in the process of making the roster than other candidates, even if it seems like he may be a long shot to make the club whenever baseball resumes. After all, as a non-roster invitee, the chips really have to fall in his favor for him to make the team. While he did relatively okay this Spring, posting a 5.06 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and striking out 9 and only walking three in 5.1 innings of work, it’s probably not enough to steal a spot from someone on the 40-man at this point in time.

That being said, if minor league baseball continues (though that’s super hazy to determine at this time), then it is possible Shipley could transition this strong performance to Omaha, where a solid stint in the Storm Chasers rotation could earn him a spot in the Royals rotation or bullpen if none of the current Royals on the 40-man fill in the spot adequately. After all, if the Royals decide to keep Singer down and not promote him right out of the bat, it most likely will be either Jorge Lopez or Glenn Sparkman for a second straight year, and that’s not exactly a promising sign considering their struggles a season ago in the rotation.

Shipley has the chips stacked against him, especially as 28-year-old who has only pitched 100 innings at the Major League level since being drafted in 2013 (with 70 percent of those innings coming in 2016). That being said, there is hope that the Royals can stir up some “rebound” magic with Shipley like with Homer Bailey a season ago or even pitchers like Brad Keller and Scott Barlow who were cast offs from the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, respectively. Maybe the new environment and coaching of the Royals can tap into a Shipley that wasn’t fully realized in the desert of Arizona.

Or he may not. And if that’s the case, at least the Storm Chasers will have some pitching depth in the rotation for the upcoming season or 2021.

2 thoughts on “Is Braden Shipley a sleeper for the Royals’ rotation or bullpen?

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