There are fun summers, busy summers and then there’s the exciting, strenuous summer Bradley Hanner is having in Fort Myers, Fla. The 2017 Orange County High School (OCHS) graduate is playing rookie ball for the Minnesota Twins, and he calls it “a dream come true.”
Hanner, 20, got the call from a Twins scout on June 5, the third and final day of the Major League Baseball draft. He was driving in Fredericksburg with his brother, Austin Shifflett, 15, beside him. He pulled off the road and spent the next hour responding to calls and texts from family and friends who’d heard the nationally publicized news around the same time he did.
Speaking from training camp, the ace pitcher said he knew a couple of other teams were interested him, but “finally, the Twins took a chance. It’s a great organization and they’re playing good baseball, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Hanner is right-handed, six feet, four inches tall and weighs 210 pounds. He said he can throw pitches in the 90 mph range and has reached 96 mph a couple of times.
He reported to Fort Myers just a few days after he was drafted in the 21st round as the 629th overall pick. Along with many other hopeful young players in the Gulf Coast League (GCL), he is running, conditioning and playing lots of ball.
His rookie season began Monday when the GCL Twins lost 4-3 to the GCL Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla.
By the end of the summer, he will get word on where he heads next. Typically, rookies are assigned to minor league teams allowing them time to raise their game and boost their confidence. The best of the best move up the ranks to the major league.
His mother, Tonya Shifflett of Rapidan, was at work listening to the Major League Baseball draft announcements on a phone app when things suddenly got very interesting.
“It was the most overwhelming feeling as a mother just to hear his name,” Shifflett said, recalling how she laughed and cried, hardly able to put words to everything she felt.
She said his father, Todd Hanner, and paternal grandfather played sports with Bradley when he was growing up, and everyone noticed his unusual athletic ability. “We just saw the talent, especially with baseball.”
Hanner played baseball at Prospect Heights Middle School and quickly became a standout player in high school. Shifflett said she’s grateful to all the good coaches he’s had over the years, most recently at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville.
At OCHS, Hanner helped his team win the district championship in 2017. He finished that season with an 8-2 record, 0.79 earned run average and 114 strikeouts in 68 innings pitched.
He was generally on the field to pitch but also played shortstop. In his senior year he hit .360 and drove in 20 runs.
Dave Rabe, Hanner’s varsity baseball coach at OCHS, was impressed from the beginning. Even as a ninth-grader, Hanner stood out.
“He had as much potential as anybody I’ve seen. His raw ability was head and shoulders above others,” Rabe said.
Rabe has watched his former player mature from a happy-go-lucky kid with a strong arm to a focused young man who knows “when to turn it on and be professional and get the job done.”
Rabe was in regular contact with Hanner for the two years he played ball for Patrick Henry Community College. Although he was well aware of Hanner’s major-league ambitions, he made a point of asking about his college classes and other interests, in hopes of keeping him “well-rounded.”
“He’ll talk to me a lot about fishing. Most of the time when we talk, it’s about fishing or family,” Rabe said. “I try to talk to him about things outside baseball.”
Adam Utz also got to know Hanner at OCHS. Now varsity baseball coach, he was the junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach during Hanner’s time.
He commends Hanner for his work ethic: “Minor league baseball is grueling. I think that’s exactly up Bradley’s alley. He wants to succeed.”
Utz said Hanner has a “live arm” capable of pitching hard and fast.
“Bradley had really good velocity even in high school, mid- to upper 80s [mph], probably touching the 90s,” he said.
Hanner’s staying power is a key strength, Utz noted. He said Hanner can throw more pitches than many of his peers and is capable of “throwing harder at the end of games than at the beginning.”
Utz added, “When he throws a baseball, it almost looks effortless. It comes out so naturally.”
The pitcher is the key player on the field, the coach remarked. “They control the pace of the game; they control every aspect of the game.”
With that in mind, he believes Hanner has the mental toughness to go far. “You have to be fierce. When I see Bradley step up on the mound, he is fierce. You could see it in his eyes [in high school games]. He always thought he was better than the guys at the plate.”
Like Rabe, Utz remembers Hanner’s playful side. In high school, he said, “He was just a pure goofball. He would make practices fun. He was constantly trying to find fun in the game.”
Now that the Orange County star is playing rookie ball, Utz believes that fun-loving spirit will serve him well: “Bradley has always been able to find joy in baseball. That alone, plus his athletic ability, will drive him.”