In the days of the Wild West, Oklahoma gunslingers dueled at high noon. The showdown between aces Dylan Bundy of Owasso and Archie Bradley of Broken Arrow will take place under the lights. All eyes of the amatuer baseball world will turn to Owasso, Oklahoma tonight for the nation's most heavily anticipated matchup of the season. While the temperatures are expected to be in the low 60s there will be plenty of heat, as both Bradley and Bundy are armed with mid to upper 90s fastballs.
Velocity is just one wrinkle of the impressive repertoires of the All-Americans, as both also boast devastating offspeed stuff. Bradley is an aggressive power pitcher who attacks hitters with an impressive, overpowering three pitch arsenal. Bradley has arguably the best curveball in the nation, a hard knuckle curve with big 11-5 biting action in the low to mid 80s. In a recent interview Bundy described his opponent's curveball as "the best I have seen at any level."
Bundy uses an advanced four pitch mix, and while he also throws (very) hard, he is a bit more of a finesse pitcher. Using easily repeatable mechanics Bundy throws with surprisingly low effort for a flamethrower. Bundy's fastball shows plus movement and he exhibits very good present command and advanced pitchability (3 walks through 42 innings this season). Bundy mixes his heavy fastball that he can move to either side or sink with a sharp breaking mid 80s slider, a hard 12-6 curve and a plus changeup and has good overall feel for each of his four pitches.
While neither of these elite prospects are flawless, the concerns are minor. Bradley wears his emotions on his sleeve when he's on the mound, which may have caused his ejection one out shy of a complete game shutout in Florida. However, Broken Arrow assistant coach Doug Nold explained to the Broken Arrow Ledger "Archie was talking to Dylan (BAHS catcher Delso) asking where that last pitch was. The umpire thought Archie was talking to him."
During last year's state playoffs a lot of eyebrows were raised in the scouting community over Dylan Bundy's 10 inning 181 pitch day that spanned two games. However, Bundy who became a YouTube sensation at 14 years old for his intense training regiment told the Tulsa World shortly after the playoffs "If I ever feel stress on my arm, I shut it down in a hurry. I'm not taking chances. I'll tell you right now, I'm coming out when I want to. I'm going to take care of my body." Bundy has shown no ill effects from the heavy workload nearly eleven months ago and has had only one pitch count exceed 85 this season (96 pitches on March 11).
Regular season games don't get any bigger than this, not in Oklahoma, not anywhere. Owasso and Broken Arrow enter the game with a combined record of 45-2 and are currently ranked #2 and #3 in the nation respectively in the latest PG National Top 50 rankings. 23-1 Owasso holds a slim edge over 22-1 Broken Arrow for the top spot in the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) rankings at the moment.
When two players of such a high caliber come from the same area at the same time they are constantly compared to one another. It is nearly impossible for a rivalry not to develop between the two. Bradley said "the rivalry between us is just as big as the game between the two teams. We're
friends off the field, on the field we are competitors." Though it seems somewhat unlikely that both players will pass up the chance to play professional baseball straight out of high school, the fact that Bradley is signed with Oklahoma and Bundy with Texas only heightens the rivalry. The comparisons are not likely to end after high school as the two will likely be linked throughout their careers.
Pitching matchups like this don't come around too often and make the excruciatingly difficult decision-making process just a little bit easier for MLB executives. A Crosschecker for a National League club speaking on a condition of anonymity explained "it's great because we'll see which one rises to the occasion, we'll find out a lot about those two kids in that game." The stakes will be high, but this is nothing new to either pitcher. Broken Arrow head coach Shannon Dobson said of his ace "Archie has done a great job handling pressure all year. He's received a ton of attention since the summer from pro scouts and pitched in big games throughout his career."
While both pitchers have played in the biggest amatuer baseball events from the Aflac All-American game, the PG National Showcase, Area Code Games, Tournament of Stars, etc, the stakes have never been this high. With the draft on the horizon MLB clubs are beginning to rev their preparation into high gear. While every start gets put under a microscope this time of year for potential first round picks, when two elite prospects like Bradley and Bundy face one another in a big game atmosphere, the scrutiny becomes even greater.
Owasso and Broken Arrow are two very evenly matched teams, and the same can be said of tonight's starting pitchers. Bradley is currently ranked as the 3rd best prospect in Perfect Game's class of 2011 player rankings, Bundy is 5th. Some talent evaluators expect Bundy to be chosen ahead of Bradley in the MLB Draft this June, and likely as the top high school pitcher to come off the board. But draft stocks can rise and fall quickly and with both pitchers being strong first round candidates at the moment, the matchup is an incredible opportunity for them to bolster their stock.
There will be a lot more than first place on the line in tonight's showdown. Though this is likely not the last duel these two aces will engage in.
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