Nestled in between an over-slot Wil Myers and Joe Kelly’s Great Stuff™ in the third round of the 2009 draft, you’ll find Broxton going to the Arizona Diamondbacks out of a small Florida junior college. Broxton earned his six-figure bonus on the back of a .340/.450/.641 campaign in his draft season that includes 10 homers and steals apiece in 48 games. There were some whispers of dreaded “character issues” after he reneged on a two-sport commitment to Florida Atlantic University, but he presented as a hard worker and his combination of on-field performance and massive raw tools pushed an aggressive draft slot.
For the first several seasons of his early professional career he wore a very similar tag: great tools, outstanding potential in centerfield, poor pitch recognition and approach that might ultimately doom his bat. After muddling along up through the first half of his inaugural campaign in the California League in 2012, he went off to the tune of a .333/.361/.544 line in the second half, solidifying himself among the up-and-coming Diamondback ranks. So solid was his standing within the org, in fact, that Arizona traded him to Pittsburgh after he appeared to hit a wall at Double A the next season. Pittsburgh, in turn, traded him on to Milwaukee last winter for Quad-A corner bat Jason Rogers, again reaffirming just how valuable an asset big-league front offices saw in Broxton. Except then 2016 happened.
What Went Right in 2016
After an abysmal start to the season (0-for-17 with 11 whiffs in six games) culminated in a swift and unceremonious demotion to Triple A, he made a fairly significant adjustment to his load, dropping his hand position and reversing a hitch into his trigger. He promptly destroyed PCL pitching and forced a return ticket to Milwaukee, where he promptly destroyed big-league pitching for the better part of the season’s remainder. He produced a .278 TAv in spite of a whiff rate north of 36-percent, relying on a robust .373 BABIP to lug his batting average into won’t-kill-you-territory.
The good news is that the BABIP was largely earned. Broxton’s 95 mile-an-hour average exit velocity was the fourth-best mark of any big-league hitter last year, sitting right behind Giancarlo Stanton. When he made contact – and that was an extremely rare occurrence relative to the average major leaguer, mind you – he rarely made weak contact. He pulled the ball consistently and with authority, with the kind of groundballs that beat shifts and the kind of aerial assaults that would make Wily Mo blush. Coupled with a top-30 speed score, it was a potent combination for turning contact into hits.
The raw speed came with impressive utility, which is perhaps the most exciting underlying aspect of his fantasy skillset. He stole 23 bags in 27 attempts, good for a stellar 85 percent conversion rate. And he was able to generate running opportunities in spite of batting average woes by working a tremendous amount of walks: his 14.8 percent walk rate checked in 12th out of the 353 hitters who logged at least 200 plate appearances last year.
Oh, and there was the part where he hit for the good kind of fantasy power, too. He didn’t hit a ton of fly balls, but when he did they were well struck, producing a tasty 26 percent HR/FB rate. Again, while that number garners kneejerk assumptions of impending regression, it’s worth noting that between the elite exit velocity and an average batted ball distance pushing the 90th percentile, it wasn’t as crazy a figure as you might think.
What Went Wrong in 2016
Strikeouts! So. Many. Strikeouts. While the initial April splurge marked an uncomfortable extreme, he continued to work deep counts – his 4.37 pitches-per-plate appearance rated ninth – and whiff at a spectacular clip for most of the season. His 14.7-percent swing-and-miss rate cracked the top 30 overall, driven by the single worst rate of contact on pitches outside the zone by any hitter in baseball. He logged a fairly severe platoon split as well, struggling mightily against right-handed pitchers to the tune of a .210/.315/.379 mark that may very well leave him subject to a platoon situation sooner than later.
He was arrested in an ugly incident last August. According to police reports he was cuffed for trespassing while visibly intoxicated and apparently bloodied from a fight at 3:30 in the morning. That kind of decision-making isn’t exactly what you want to see out of a 26-year-old, let alone one with a starting job for a major-league baseball team. And not long thereafter that ugliness, he broke his wrist slamming into Wrigley’s centerfield wall to cut his season short by a couple weeks.
What to Expect in 2017
Just about any scenario you can imagine is on the table for Broxton this year. He could take a step forward in taming his issues with right-handed pitching – he did hit a robust .275/.336/.542 against right-handers at Triple-A last year, after all – and emerge as a solid if flawed majority-at-bat player. He could strike out 45 percent of the time for three weeks, then get demoted again. His wrist could still be sore, leading to diminished returns that cloud further still is ultimate outlook. He could put it all together, log 600 plate appearances, and throw up a remix of Jonathan Villar’s 2016 season. None of these outcomes, nor anything in between, should shock you.
The question then becomes one of assigning proper value to his boom-bust profile, and that can involve any number of contextual factors unique to your team. Broadly, however, Broxton’s chief antagonist thus far as a professional has been the strikeout. And to that end, that his whiffs declined at a steady rate following his recall last summer should not be lost on anybody, though operating as we are with limited samples it’s hard to invest too heavily in an assumption of pattern. Despite the small samples, the numbers do suggest second-half improvement , and with it cause for cautious yet drool-inducing optimism. He’s currently being drafted 189th overall and 40th among outfielders in NFBC drafts, and that feels light to me given the height of ceiling, along with at least some indications in last year’s data that he may be poised to make a run at it. Depending on how your early draft shakes out and what kind of outfield depth you have access to, I like the idea of starting to ponder Broxton’s name sometimes near the 10th round – earlier still if you’re playing in an OBP format, where he has as much upside as anybody in the league.
The Great Beyond
So much of Broxton’s dynasty-league future value will be tied directly to what happens on the field this spring and summer. Milwaukee’s depth chart of pedigreed center fielders in the high minors is impressive, with Lewis Brinson likely to join the party at some point in the season and Brett Phillips in the mix as well. But Broxton’s contact structure – he’s not even arbitration-eligible until after the 2019 season – fits awfully snug next his above-average defense in center and potentially game-altering speed-and-power combination. Given all of this, logic would seem to dictate that Milwaukee will do everything in its power to give Broxton the opportunity to succeed. Then again, the team has invested precious little in Broxton’s at-large development, ostensibly making him an easier player to sweep aside if, say, either prospect debuts on fire.
I’m bullish on the skill set, enough so that the 26-year-old warrants attention as one of the major breakout candidates in fantasy baseball. And that goes double for those in OBP formats, where his largest weakness is mitigated.
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