Prospect Retrospective and Career Profile: Brad Radke, RHP, Minnesota Twins
A reader asked me to do a profile of former Minnesota Twins pitcher Brad Radke, examining what he was like as a prospect. I felt this was a worthy topic, since Radke wasn't a hot property in the minors, but went on to have a very fine major league career after a tough rookie season.
Brad Radke was born in "Twins Territory" at Eau Claire, Wisconsin on October 27, 1972. He was living in Florida by the time he was on the baseball radar, pitching for Jesuit High School in Tampa. He was selected in the eighth round of the 1991 draft, not a hot prospect, but drawing the notice of scouts due to his command and athleticism, as well as his intelligence and work ethic. He performed well in rookie ball, posting a 3.08 ERA with a 46/14 K/BB in 50 innings for the GCL Twins.
The Twins were impressed enough to send him to Low-A Kenosha in the Midwest League for 1992, giving him a full-season assignment at the age of 19. He handled this with aplomb, making 25 starts, throwing 166 innings with a 2.93 ERA and a 127/47 K/BB ratio, with 149 hits allowed. He went 10-10 for a 63-70 club. With an average fastball he didn't draw rave scouting reviews, but his command was impressive and he ate a ton of innings. Nowadays, I'd give someone like that a Grade C+ (maybe a B-) and would likely rate them a sleeper.
Radke moved up to High-A Fort Myers to open 1993, posting a 3.82 ERA with a 69/21 K/BB in 92 innings with 85 hits allowed. The strikeout rate was low, but he was efficient enough to earn a mid-season promotion to Double-A. He went 2-6, 4.62 in 13 starts for Nashville, but actually improved his components with a 76/16 K/BB ratio in 76 innings, pretty sharp performance for a 20 year old in Double-A. Again, he didn't rank highly on prospect lists, but there were very positive signs here and I'd probably have rated him a Grade B-.
Returning to Nashville for 1994, Radke went 12-9, 2.66 in 28 starts with a 123/34 K/BB ratio and 167 hits allowed in 186 innings. His K/IP ratio wasn't hot at 5.94 K/9, but his command was terrific and his pitching sense beyond his years. I was working for Bill James at the time, just starting to turn prospect analysis from a hobby into a living. I remember liking Radke's control but worrying that he wasn't striking enough people out. I'd have probably given him another B-.
I also remember some comments from Twins manager Tom Kelly praising how Radke went about his job. Kelly wasn't one to compliment young players unnecessarily, so that stood out. Kelly showed a lot of faith with Radke in 1995, skipping him past Triple-A with 28 major league starts. He was erratic, going 11-14 with a 5.32 ERA, but he chewed through 181 innings and walked just 47 hitters. He also gave up 32 homers and struck out just 75 men. At the time, my read was that Radke could be a nice inning-eater but I didn't expect him to be an ace.
Radke cut his ERA to 4.46 in 1996, making 35 starts and throwing 232 innings. He boosted his K/IP ratio, posting a 148/57 K/BB mark. Progress continued in 1997 when he lowered his ERA to 3.87, while winning 20 games for a 68-94 team. By this point he was definitely the ace of the staff.
He became the mainstay of the Twins starting rotation for the next decade. Although he gained some velocity as he matured, his key pitch was always an outstanding changeup. He threw strikes, changed speeds, and stayed healthy until 2002 when a serious groin injury limited him to 21 starts. He returned to throw 200+ innings again in '03, '04, and '05, although by this point Johan Santana had taken over as the ace of the staff.
Radke's arm finally broke down in 2006 at the age of 33. Suffering from a torn labrum, he pitched through the pain, but eventually he chose to retire rather than slog through a difficult rehab process.
Overall, Radke posted a 148-139 career record, posting a 4.22 ERA in a high-offense era. His ERA was better than league average in 10 of his 12 seasons, and he threw 200 or more innings nine times. He posted a positive WAR every season of his career, with particularly strong performances in 2004 (5.7), 1997 (5.5), and 2001 (5.3). He finished with 2451 innings pitched, posting an outstanding 1467/445 K/BB ratio.
Comparable pitchers by Sim Score include Jon Lieber, Kevin Tapani, Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson, Doug Drabek, and Todd Stottlemyre. His career 46.2 WAR puts him in the same territory as Rube Marquard (46.7), John Burkett (46.7), and Milt Pappas (46.0).
Not bad for an eighth round draft pick, I'd say.