PHOENIX -- The D-backs may have lost out in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, but they could have another ace waiting in the wings.
The D-backs, according to MLB.com, have the top pitching prospect in baseball in right-hander Archie Bradley.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2014.
Bradley is No. 5 overall in the rankings behind position players Byron Buxton, Xander Bogaerts, Oscar Taveras and Miguel Sano.
The D-backs certainly share MLB.com's point of view.
"We really think Archie's got a chance in the very near future to be a top-of-the-rotation starter," Arizona GM Kevin Towers said.
Two other D-backs prospects made the list with shortstop Chris Owings checking in at 77 and right-hander Braden Shipley ranked 79th.
Drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Bradley has risen steadily through the D-backs system. After appearing in a couple of games for Arizona's entry in the rookie Pioneer League in 2011, Bradley spent the 2012 season with Class A South Bend.
The 21-year-old started the 2013 season with Class A Advanced Visalia, but after going 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his first five starts, he was promoted to Double-A Mobile. Bradley was nearly as dominant there, finishing 12-5 with a 1.97 ERA for the BayBears.
"I'm not going to say I expected to move as fast as I did," Bradley said. "I just worked really hard to do it. I think as soon as you understand you don't control how fast you move, you can just control your day-to-day activities and how well you pitch. When the organization, the manager and general manager and people above you think you're ready, then you'll move. Once I learned that was out of my hands, everything just became easier for me."
In fact, Bradley was so impressive the D-backs considered promoting him to the big leagues in September, but instead opted to invite him to Spring Training this year.
Rather than the invite simply being a reward for a good season or a chance to see how things are done in big league camp, the D-backs plan on Bradley competing for a spot in the rotation. As it stands right now, Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy have the inside track on spots.
That leaves the fifth spot for a battle between Bradley and Randall Delgado, among others.
"Archie Bradley is going to get a good chance at it," Towers said.
Improving his fastball command as well as his changeup would certainly help Bradley make the next jump. His fastball is explosive and his curve is rated above average as well.
"He's a power guy," D-backs scouting director Ray Montgomery said. "There's power to his fastball, power to his breaking ball. If he develops an average changeup, that's more than enough."
Some teams prefer to hold back top prospects from the big leagues until June or July so as to slow down their arbitration and free-agent clocks. The D-backs, though, maintain that if Bradley shows he's ready during Spring Training, they won't hesitate to have him on the Opening Day roster.
Owings, too, could find himself on the roster when the team opens the season against the Dodgers in Sydney.
The D-backs acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Indians last offseason, but after Owings hit .330 with an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .841 for Triple-A Reno last year and followed that up with an impressive September in the big leagues, it appears he might have the leg up heading into camp.
Owings and Gregorius will battle for the starting shortstop job during the spring, with the loser probably ticketed for Triple-A.
Shipley was taken in the first round (15th overall) in last year's Draft and spent time with both South Bend and Class A Short-Season Hillsboro in the Northwest League after signing.
The right-hander's fastball had touched 98 mph during his college career, but generally sits in the 92-94 range. As an advanced college pitcher, he could rise quickly through the system.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.