Q&A: Taj Bradley explains ‘athletic arrogance,’ his journal and more

March 14th, 2022

Since his pro debut in 2018, Rays No. 6 prospect has only gotten better. He firmly broke out in 2021, pitching to a 1.83 ERA in 103 1/3 innings across two levels while posting a 123-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 0.93 WHIP. After making his final eight starts with High-A Bowling Green, he fanned nine in six innings in the Minor League playoffs en route to the Hot Rods’ High-A East crown.

Jonathan Mayo: I want to start with a phrase that I saw that came up in a bunch of the stories when people talk to you: athletic arrogance. What does that mean to you?

Taj Bradley: To me, it means a dominant persona, meaning you don't have to shy away from a hitter, or shy away from a pitch. You throw with the intent you have and confidence that it's your best pitch in that moment. Having that athletic arrogance means that I know that in that moment, it's gonna work and it's gonna play well.

Mayo: Is that something that came naturally to you? Or is that something that like, yes, I've always thought that, but I couldn't quite wrap my head around how to really embrace it?

Bradley: I thought that and I didn't know how to come about it. Because sometimes in baseball, you feel like you have to be the most humblest guy in the world, or the game will humble you. So with that, it was just realizing it's more confidence – so arrogance is confidence, and athleticism is just what you have naturally. If you have confidence in what you can do and your production, that's what the term means to me.

Mayo: How much has that gotten easier as your stuff has gotten better?

Bradley: I feel like with anything you have, whether your velo is 87-88 or 96-97, it's athletic arrogance to take you the rest of the way. I mean, you see a lot of these veteran guys, they might not have the velo they had when they first came into the game, but they're still competing at a high level. So I don't think velo matters. It’s just confidence and mentality and aggression on the mound that once you have it, you have it.

Mayo: Having 97-98 doesn't hurt, though.

Bradley: Doesn’t hurt either, yeah. You can get away with a little bit more.

Mayo: I have to ask about the journaling, because you're not the first player to keep a notebook on guys. But this is not your typical "throw a slider to hitter X in this count." How much does it help you to be able to spill all of your thoughts – whether it's how you felt emotionally or how a pitch worked – on the page for you to be able to go back and reflect on?

Bradley: The journal just helps me get all my thoughts and feelings out, and not feel as if I'm talking to you about it – like I gotta tone it down, or I can't say what I want. So it's just me talking to myself. So it’s just as if I'm looking in the mirror, and I write it down to remember it, look back on, and just put notes that I can have for my next outing or next bullpen.

And for hitters, I don't key in on any hitters. I mean, we have a run through for guys before the outing, but even then I like to go through the lineup once and figure out how my game plays. So if I watch another guy, maybe his stuff is different in a way that I can’t take into that approach. Like they tell me he's not good on a changeup, but your changeup could be different, or something like that. So I don't really take anything from anybody else's outing.

But journaling is just for me personally. So footnotes on myself, delivery, pitches, what worked for me that day.

Mayo: Let's talk a little bit about your 2021. Because for you, I know it's been kind of a progression of getting bigger and stronger. Do you feel coming in this spring that you're in a really good spot with where you are?

Bradley: Yeah, physically, I feel good. I took what I learned last season and implemented it in my training for the offseason. Looking back on last season, that's all I can really take from it, the journals that I had, and take it into next season. The accolades are cool, they were nice to have in the moment, but like I said, all that's left in 2021. It’s 2022, so now it's, how am I gonna be this year? So that's all I'm really focused on.

Mayo: The moves to the upper levels are always a big challenge. What have you heard about that? What do you think that you need to do in order to hit the ground running like you did in ‘21?

Bradley: So what I've heard and I've asked guys at higher levels, is that the hitters maybe have a better approach. They may be taking pitches that are borderline strikes, and not chasing anything so much. So maybe just setting up your pitches in a certain way. And actually, like, once you read a swing, go with it, go with your gut, don't second guess it because then that's when they'll hunt one pitch that they know they can get to and take it away.

Mayo: This is an organization that's prided itself on having a really good farm system and pushing guys up to the big leagues. And that also means there's a lot of competition. How much does that help you? I was talking to Jeff [McLerran], your farm director, about this: I think everyone around here knows that if you don't get the job done, there's probably someone a level behind you who is getting the job done. Does that help motivate you?

Bradley: Being a young guy at 17, it took me a while, maybe a year and a half or so, but to realize that I was always hearing “you have time,” so the mistakes you make now, you have time to correct them. But then I realized they have another Draft behind me. There's younger guys behind me. Even another Draft class from this past year, there could be developed 21-year-olds out of college that they feel they could put ahead of me, or there could be another high school guy such as myself that could come behind me. So never feeling like I have time to slack off or just time to make those mistakes and improve, and I don't have all the time in the world. I have to keep pace and keep improving and there's no time to let up.

Mayo: Is it hard to find a balance between that? Like, you have to hurry up and get there, but you know that development takes time. Is that a thing you have to remind yourself balance-wise?

Bradley: I've always learned about like, the time you have, you can't really stick in one place and feel like OK, I have time to get myself together. But also, in the Minor Leagues, you're just here to figure stuff out. That's pretty much all there is to development. You know, I'm not here to be the best big-leaguer right off the bat, so you figure stuff out and develop your game and your process and take it into the big leagues once you’re there.

Mayo: You like writing down quotes from people, I think you mentioned Denzel Washington was one. Is there one quote from anybody that’s your go-to that you carry with you?

Bradley: When I first met [Low-A Charleston pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein], something that I took from him: You’re never gonna have bad outings but that moment. So just realizing that one moment, that one pitch that could have been a home run, it doesn't define your whole outing. I mean, you can progress and you can make it great afterwards. But that one pitch, that one moment, doesn't define your outing, your season, or anything like that.