At the end of Spring Training last year, the Pirates traded for a player who struggled through A-ball for the Arizona Diamondbacks. At the beginning of 2014, the Pirates sent Keon Broxton to Double-A Altoona, and he began to develop into the player that the Diamondbacks thought they drafted in the third round of the 2009 draft. He finished last season with a .275/.369/.484 slash line with 15 home runs, 22 doubles, and 25 stolen bases in 125 games for the Curve. What was particularly impressive was how he finished last season with a .356/.458/.611 line in August. His 1.069 OPS after August 1st ranked first in the Pirates’ system. Broxton finally seemed to put his tools and skills together in 2014.
Broxton projects to have the upside of a fourth outfielder in the majors. He has compared to fellow prospect Mel Rojas Jr., with the latter being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis at the end of last season. There was a logjam of outfielders in Indianapolis at the start of the season, with the recently promoted Jose Tabata, Jaff Decker, Gorkys Hernandez, Andy Vasquez, & Rojas Jr. Because of this, Broxton was sent back to Double-A to begin the 2015 campaign.
Broxton has been a steady presence in the Altoona outfield since Opening Day. He is now regularly playing centerfield, which he did not get a chance to play often until the end of last season because of Rojas Jr. In April, Broxton was hitting a respectable .273/.317/.429 line, but he still felt he wasn’t hitting on all cylinders yet.
“I was looking at my numbers and thought to myself that I need to do way more than what I’m doing right now,” Broxton said. “It got me in a funk and out of my game plan. I felt I had a lot more to give from the plate.”
Even though his numbers were decent, you could almost tell that Broxton was putting too much pressure on himself to perform. When asked if it bothered him earlier in the season about remaining in Altoona, rather than being promoted to Indianapolis, he said it was weighing on him, and he was trying to do too much to prove himself.
“I was trying to do too much damage during every swing, and I learned that it wasn’t going to work,” Broxton said. “Now, I’m approaching each at bat by taking what the pitcher is going to give me. I started putting more weight on my back leg to try to stay back on the ball rather than swinging uncontrollably.”
I’ve noticed a difference in Broxton during Altoona’s last three series. In his last nine games, he is hitting .333, but most importantly, he is getting on base more and striking out less (17.8%). More specifically, I’ve seen him do a great job leading off a game by doing anything he can to get on base. He had a three game run where he led off each game with a double.
“First at bat of the game, I’m just trying to get on base for the guys behind me,” said Broxton. “I have Moroff and Bell ready to pick me up at any time, so I’m just trying to get on base for them. If it’s a double, great. If it’s a single, I’m trying to steal a bag within the next two pitches.”
His numbers may not be astronomical this season, but Broxton has certainly passed the eye test as a steady presence in the outfield and as someone the rest of the outfielders look up to.
“I have the most experience in the outfield with this being my third year in Double-A, so any little pointers and tips I can give to one of the guys, I want to step up and take the role as a leader,” Broxton said. “I’ve worked with Allie on his footwork and how he should read balls since he is new to the outfield, and he’s adjusted really well.”
Broxton has a projectable frame and has shown in the past that he can hit for power; however, he only has one home run this season. His ISO on the season is only .125. He does have ten doubles this year, but his overall strikeout rate is still high at 24.7%. In his professional career, he has never finished a season below a 25.9% strikeout rate. If Broxton wants to continue in his development, he would need to rediscover some home run power, as well as keep his strikeout rate down like he has for the past week.
As I wrote about with Willy Garcia, it seems like Curve hitting coach Kevin Riggs has worked with his players to cut down their strikeouts; however, power numbers are way down throughout the whole team. On the season, Curve players have only hit 13 home runs, which ranks second to last in the Eastern League.
Keon Broxton has a clear mindset moving forward.
“At the end of the day, I don’t want to be here or Triple-A, I want to be in the big leagues,” Broxton said. “It really doesn’t matter where I am. I just do anything I can do to try to get better and reach my goal. I was thinking I had to do way more to get out of here and get to the big leagues as quick as possible. I’m learning to let the game come to me.”