Rookie Review: Brad Boxberger, RHP, San Diego Padres
Brad Boxberger was the least-known player acquired by the Padres from the Reds in the December 2011 Mat Latos trade. Starter Edinson Volquez, catcher Yasmani Grandal, and first baseman Yonder Alonso have taken their places in the Padres lineup. Boxberger hasn't received nearly the same kind of attention, but he's also likely to be a solid asset going forward.
Boxberger pitched three seasons for the University of Southern California, posting a strong season as a starter during his freshman year in 2007 (3.20 ERA, 72/34 K/BB in 90 innings). He split time between starting and relief during an erratic 2008 sophomore season (6.12 ERA, 52/26 K/BB in 50 innings, three saves), but returned to the rotation in '09 and found the touch again, posting a 3.16 ERA with a 99/50 K/BB in 94 innings. Drafted in the supplemental first round in '09, he signed too late to pitch that year for a $857,000 bonus.
Some scouts liked him as a starter, others felt he fit better in the bullpen. The Reds used him in the rotation at High-A Lynchburg to open '10. Results were good: 3.19 ERA in 13 starts with a 70/20 K/BB in 62 innings. Moved up to Double-A Carolina at mid-season, he switched to relief work but struggled, posting a horrific 8.49 ERA in 30 innings. He fanned 40, but walked 22. Scouts felt he was overthrowing in a misguided attempt to dominate hitters with pure velocity rather than movement.
The Reds returned him to Carolina in 2011 with much better results: 1.31 ERA with a 57/13 K/BB and just 16 hits allowed in 34 innings. He had some control wobbles after moving up t Triple-A Louisville, walking 15 in 28 innings, but he fanned 36, allowed just 16 hits, and posted a 2.93 ERA with seven saves.
Boxberger has split 2012 between Triple-A Tucson (2.70 ERA, 62/19 K/BB in 43 innings) and the major league staff. Overall, in 284 minor league innings, Boxberger has posted a 389/127 K/BB ratio. His career minor league K/9 ratio of 12.34 is truly outstanding.
Boxberger has maintained a strong strikeout pace in his major league action. In 24 innings for the Padres, he has a 30/16 K/BB with 22 hits allowed. The walk rate is too high (elevating his FIP to 4.48, his xFIP to 4.62), but he's had enough good luck with runners on to keep his ERA in the safe zone at 3.00. That may not hold in a larger sample/full season of course; he needs to get the walks down.
Boxberger can get up to 95 MPH although scouts seem to think the fastball has better movement when he works it in the low 90s, which is where he keeps it most of the time now. He used a curveball as a starter, but has ditched that pitch in favor of a changeup, cutter, and occasional slider. His biggest problem (other than command) has been the need for polish with his secondary pitches, which have varied considerably in quality.
He has shut down right-handers (comparatively speaking) in the majors with a .225/.356/.354 mark; the OBP is high due to the walks, but he's suppressed hits and extra-base hits. Lefties, on the other hand, have hit .262/.380/.500 against him in the majors. Granted, the sample sizes here are small, but they fit the scouting reports well: Boxberger is tough on right-handers, but his control needs work and another weapon against lefties will be necessary for him to close.
Sabermetrically, his high strikeout rate is a positive marker and points to good future potential despite his current issues. Fantasy owners in deep leagues may want to consider him as a stash candidate. He's likely a middle reliever entering 2013, but if you see improvement in his control, more is possible.