Prospect Retro: Jonathan Broxton
Per reader request, here is a Prospect Retro for Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton.
Jonathan Broxton was drafted by the Dodgers in the second round in 2002, out of high school in Waynesboro, Georgia. Scouts loved his arm strength: he threw 93-95 MPH in high school, but were worried about his weight (he was 6-4, 260 when drafted) a below average curveball, and inconsistent mechanics, concerns that kept him out of the first round. The Dodgers sent him to the Pioneer League, where he posted a 2.76 ERA with a 33/16 K/BB in 29 innings, allowing 22 hits. The numbers matched the scouting reports perfectly: the K/IP and H/IP reflected his stuff, but the walk rate was high. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2003 book, noting that Broxton had an excellent ceiling but needed to refine his game.
Injuries hampered Broxton in 2003: he was limited to eight starts and 37 innings for South Georgia in the Sally League, due to a sore wrist in April and a biceps strain that shut him down for good in June. Those 37 inning resulted in a fine 3.13 ERA, but his 30/22 K/BB showed the continued need for improved control. He also had more problems with weight, getting close to 280 pounds at times. His velocity was also inconsistent: he threw 96-97 MPH at times, but saw his velocity dip into the 86-88 range before he went on the DL. I gave him a Grade C in the 2004 book, primarily due to injury concerns, noting that he still had the great ceiling but that there was a lot of uncertainty about his health and physical condition.
Broxton proved healthy in '04, going 11-6, 3.23 with a 144/43 K/BB in 128 innings for Vero Beach in the Florida State League, allowing 110 hits. His K/IP and H/IP were very strong, and his control was much better than his previous exposures. He lost a little weight, refined his mechanics, and made significant progress refining his breaking ball. His velocity actually dipped a bit, down to 90-94 MPH consistently, but with improved sinking action and much better command. He had problems learning the changeup, however, and rumbles were appearing that he could move to relief. I was highly impressed with his progress, jumping his rating up to a Grade B+ in the 2005 book. I ranked him as the Number 32 pitching prospect in baseball.
Moved up to Double-A Jacksonville for 2005, Broxton began the campaign in the starting rotation and performed well, but moved to the bullpen at mid-season. He ended up making 13 starts and 20 relief appearances, with a 3.17 ERA and a 107/31 K/BB in 97 innings with 79 hits allowed. Now targeted as the Closer of the Future, he appeared in 14 games for the Dodgers down the stretch, posting a 5.93 ERA due to poor control (12 walks in 14 innings) but fanning 22. Relief work suited him well: his fastball went from 90-94 as a starter up to 95-99 in relief, and he gained additional bite with his slider. His K/IP and H/IP remained excellent, and I gave him another Grade B+ in the 2006 book, comparing him to former Dodger closer John Wetteland and ranking Broxton as the Number 13 pitching prospect in baseball.
As you know, Broxton has been great ever since, serving a successful apprenticeship as a short reliever in '06 and '07, then moving into the closer role in '08. His current career stats: 2.88 ERA, 148 ERA+, 438/127 K/BB in 327 innings, 250 hits allowed. His K/IP and H/IP have been as good as suggested in the minors, but his control has really come around; he has an amazing 18/1 K/BB in 11 innings so far this season. None of this is a fluke, and as long as Broxton remains healthy, he will be outstanding.
Two particular points that come to mind.
First point: When Broxton had some bicep soreness back in 2003, the Dodgers didn't push him back too soon: they shut him down as soon as the tenderness appeared in June and didn't rush him back, keeping him on the sidelines until instructional league. Even today, with much greater attention paid to workload and pitcher health, many organizations would have tried to get him back sooner than that. He's never had any significant arm problems since then, and I think the Dodgers did a great job keeping him healthy.
Second point: I compared Broxton to John Wetteland in the '06 book, and so far at least, that comparison looks dead-on. Wetteland had a career ERA of 2.93, 149 ERA+, with 9.5 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. Broxton's 2.88 ERA and 148 ERA+ are virtually identical. The main difference is that Broxton's strikeout rate has been much higher, with 12.0 K/9 so far. Wetteland was an effective major league pitcher right up until his retirement at age 34 in 2001. It will be interesting to see if Broxton lasts longer.