Keon Broxton wasted little time in making an impact during his first Major League appearance for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Donning a No. 60 gray Pirates’ jersey, the outfielder made his debut Monday – the same day he was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis – when he trotted to first base to pinch-run for Aramis Ramirez in the top of the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies, and promptly reached second base on a Neil Walker groundout that scored Andrew McCutchen.
Broxton took his lead off second base, then turned to his right and dashed towards third base during the first pitch to the next batter, Francisco Cervelli. Rockies catcher Tom Murphy immediately caught the inside pitch from Brooks Brown, popped out of his stance and rocketed the ball to third base. The throw was well off the target, and third baseman Nolan Arenado’s dive towards the infield couldn’t block the ball from sailing into left field, allowing Broxton to get to his feet after a head-first slide and jog home.
But not even a well-placed thrown would have caught the speedy Broxton, whose feet reached the before the ball even got to Arenado.
Speed has been one of Broxton’s biggest assets this season. Between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, he has stolen 39 bases in 54 tries, while also legging out 27 doubles and 12 triples to pair with a .273 average. He is also considered a plus defender that can play all three outfield positions.
2015 was Broxton’s second year in the Pirates’ system after being acquired for cash considerations prior to the 2014 season from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The former 2009 third-round pick spent all of 2014 and the first two months of 2015 with the Curve before joining the Indians in late May.
With a deep group outfield group consisting of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Jaff Decker and Travis Snider, Broxton’s role the rest of the season will likely be limited to what it was Monday: late game pinch-runner and defensive replacement. It would be surprising if he receives more than a handful of plate appearances.
Already 25, Broxton has little upside left to offer the Pirates. His 34 percent strikeout rate with the Indians and 32 percent rate over the course of his minor league career both are astoundingly high, and it is hard to see him improving on that number in the majors since he has yet to show in his career he can bring that rate down.
But his .275/.369/.484 slash line in 2014 and .273/.357/.438 line in 2015 shows he can still get on base, albeit it would likely have to be in a limited role in the Majors to mask his strikeout issues. Broxton’s batting average on balls in play stats have always been solidly above league average, which could mean his production in the Pirates’ organization can be sustainable and is not just a spurt of good luck.
Broxton will likely compete with guys like Travis Snider, Jaff Decker and/or Andrew Lambo for the fourth outfielder role in 2016 now that he is on the 40-man roster, or serve as depth in Indianapolis. Regardless of his role, it was still wise of the Pirates to call him up, as Broxton was slated to become a minor league free agent after the season and would have likely been sought after by multiple teams.
But the Pirates do not have to worry about losing Broxton to free agency over the winter now, and he will have plenty of time to display his skills and show the Pirates why they kept him. And he can start that showcase by showing off his speed on the bases and in the outfield for them in the Pirates’ push for the playoffs.