It only takes a few games watching Keon Broxton to see that his tools are as good as advertised. During my time following the Curve on this six-game swing, he became a must-watch player for me.
Defensively, he's a mix of extremes. His speed (a scorekeeper at Hadlock Field in Portland said he was the fastest player he'd seen) and good instincts give him extraordinary range. Any ball to center is entertaining to watch because Broxton probably will find a way to get near it. Equally entertaining, or frustrating, are his too-common miscues. I've seen balls go over his head and grounders under his glove, and I've seen him fumble the ball when he transfers it to his bare hand. Still, according to Brian Cartwright's advanced defensive metrics, Broxton leads Double-A centerfielders in runs saved at +13.8.
Offensively, Broxton turns infield grounders into close plays at first. If a ball gets to the outfield, look out. He turned one borderline single/double liner to left-center into an easy double. Balls he hits down the line turn into possible triples almost immediately. On the other side, he still strikes out a lot. Perhaps too much, given his speed and role as a leadoff hitter.
Broxton came to the Pirates organization via the Diamondbacks, who drafted him in the third round in 2009. He was ranked a top-20 prospect in Arizona's system from 2009 through 2012. In the 2013-14 offseason, he played winter ball for the Sydney Blue Sox in Australia. In 2014 the Pirates acquired Broxton for a player to be named. Since joining Altoona, he has posted improved offensive numbers, with a 139 wRC+ last year and 118 so far this season.
I had a chance to talk with Broxton today. Here's a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
What kind of advice have you given Stetson Allie as he learns right field?
Mostly just the basics that he's not aware of. He's pretty much played the infield and pitcher his whole life. He hasn't had much time in the outfield and reading balls. Really the only thing I help him with is the way he catches the ball sometimes. He will sometimes catch it below his shoulders, and that can cause a lot of problems. He can't really watch the ball go into the glove that way. So I just kind of told him to at least try to catch it above his shoulders and try to keep his glove above his eyes. Also, with the balls down the line with a righty in the box -- [if the batter] hits it to right field it is mostly going to slice. We just work on those basics.
How's the communication going with balls in the alley?
It's working out well. I think early on, I was taking the majority of balls away from him so he'd get comfortable running towards there. Now, I just watch him and let him play right field. He's getting very comfortable with it.
There seems to be pretty vibrant culture of guys helping each other on this team. Is it unique with this club compared to teams you've been with in the past?
I think it's more here than anywhere I've been. We have a lot of guys that are out of position right now. Not really out of position, but not comfortable with their positions. So, I think it is good for guys like myself and Gift [Ngoepe], who is also very dominant in the infield, to help other guys get comfortable with their footing and their positions. I think it's really good. It's helped the team so far.
Allie mentioned that his favorite play is to throw runners out. What about you?
Anytime I come back into the dugout and the pitcher comes up to me and says thank you, that's my favorite thing ever, just helping those guys out. I know how hard it is to be a pitcher [Broxton pitched in high school] and see bad things happen. So I like to help them as much as possible. But my favorite play is balls off the wall. Robbing a double, possibly a triple, maybe even a home run.
Who do you pattern your defense after? Do you have a favorite player to watch?
I like watching Adam Jones. I love watching him play. And Mike Trout, he's amazing out there. Jon Jay, he's awesome to watch.
You spent some time in Australia -- what was that like?
I loved it out there. The people were amazing. We got decent crowds, especially in Sydney -- we had a pretty good fan base. It was the perfect thing for me during the offseason to get more at-bats and work on my game. It wasn't too much. We played on the weekends and got our work in during the week. It was perfect, like a paid vacation and just working on baseball, too. It was my first time out of the country.
You've had some success offensively since joining the Pirates. Is that you maturing, or has the Pirates organization helped you find some things to adjust in your swing, and so on?
It think it was a combination of both. I think I've matured so much as player the past six or seven years. I've learned more about my swing. I've learned about the game itself and just really working on the basics. Working on a good foundation with my legs. Being more consistent with my stance and my swing and hitting the balls the other way. Just being able to recognize pitches, too. I think over the years I've gotten progressively better every year. The organization helped me a lot, and just me as player.
What are you still working on?
Being more dominant with my top hand, so I can drive to the opposite field instead of just filleting them and watch them fillet to the right field line. I want to hit more line drives to right.
I hear players talk about being more top-hand dominant. What does that mean? How does that translate into results? What are the benefits?
It helps you keep the barrel above the ball. If you are lazy with your top hand the barrel is going to drop. It's going to create a loop rather than a straight and direct way to the ball.
What are your feelings about playing in an organization stacked with outfield depth? Maybe in other circumstances you'd already be in Triple-A.
I don't really think about it. I like the team that I'm on right now. I'm really close with all the guys. But to me, it's not about going to Triple-A right now. It's about getting better and getting to the big leagues. I don't really want to be here, I don't want to be in Triple-A. I want to be in the big leagues. I mean, either way, I feel like I would have the same numbers in Triple-A as I do now.
Are there any guys on the Pirates that you met in Spring Training that you have relationships with and got to know?
I got to know Josh Harrison a little bit. He's a really funny guy, man. He was open to a lot things and he talked to me a lot about the game. And A.J. Burnett, he was pretty open too. A people say he isn't really open. He's a great teammate, man. I think he is probably one of the leaders in that clubhouse, for sure.