Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’17 — #23 Keon Broxton

We’re one Rickie Weeks away.

I’ve been watching baseball all day with my boy but now that he’s asleep I can get started on today’s entry in my annual series counting down to Opening Day. That day this year is April 3rd. Since March 11th is always 23 days away from April 3rd, let’s take a look at the man who wears #23 for the Milwaukee Brewers…

Keon Broxton.

2016 was a breakout year for Broxton, but it didn’t start that way. Let’s walk the path to what brought him to become the starting centerfielder for the Brewers.

It was December 17, 2015 when Twitter started squawking with news that new General Manager of the Brewers, David Stearns, had traded Jason Rogers to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a bit of a surprise as the Rogers was considered at least a solid MLB bench piece going forward with the likelihood that he would compete for a starting job at first base, or possibly even third base, in 2016. Instead, Stearns capitalized at the height of a player’s value given that the Pirates also needed a first baseman and were expected to contend.

In return for Rogers, the Brewers received a 19-year-old 2nd round pick from the 2014 draft in Trey Supak and a toolsy outfielder with a solid defensive profile in Broxton. Pirates GM Neal Huntington described Broxton at the time as “an incredibly athletic, quality defensive outfielder…[who] has some bat potential.” Broxton had demonstrated that potential in his seven minor league seasons with Arizona and Pittsburgh since being a 3rd round draft pick by the Diamondbacks in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

A career .255/.334/.419 hitter in the minors, Broxton capitalized on an opportunity in big league camp with the Brewers in 2016 to earn his first Opening Day roster assignment. He wasn’t great in Cactus League play last year (he struck out 20 times in 49 at-bats, as an example), but given the opening and his observed tool set, Stearns and Brewers Manager Craig Counsell decided that he should come north for Opening Day. It proved premature.

Broxton would struggle in his first extended chance in the big leagues to the tune of 0-for-16 at the plate over six games. He reached base just twice, both via walk. In a sign of things to come later, he scored each time on base as well as stole a base. Broxton looked nervous and would later admit to pressing during his early time in Milwaukee. He was optioned to Triple-A on April 16th as the Brewers needed a roster spot to recall Zach Davies.

Broxton did much better in Triple-A and earned a recall after hitting .301/.390/.583 with seven home runs and 15 steals in just over a month. The Brewers needed him with Domingo Santana going down with what would turn out to be Santana’s first injury of the year, and Ryan Braun missing a bit of time as well. Still, Broxton only got two weeks in the big leagues before going back down only to be recalled a week later when Santana would get hurt again. It was a yo-yo situation if ever there was one. Through it all, Broxton continued to rake in Colorado Springs and scuffle in Milwaukee. An example? On the morning of June 19, Broxton was 7-for-56 with 31 strikeouts.

Another option down came on July 3rd with a subsequent recall due to another injury, this time to Will Middlebrooks. This time though, it was different. This is where the breakout finally began.

Broxton had worked hard in the minor leagues and had changed his batting stance. He had dropped his hands which led to a faster load and being much quicker to and through the baseball. Broxton would say that he was worried about a loss of power, but those concerns would prove empty. Broxton collected six hits in his first six games back including a home run. He hit another homer on August 5 and then announced his presence with authority the next night against the Dodgers when he went 5-for-5 with a walk and a stolen base. That night raised his batting average 45 points.

He would have five more multi-hit games in August including a two-homer game on August 21st which saw Broxton finish the day with his batting average high watermark. September was a continuation of his improved play. Broxton was having fun and fans had gotten on board over the summer.

Unfortunately, injury struck Broxton on September 16.

In the third inning of a game at Wrigley Field, Broxton ran hard after a fly ball and ended up crashing into the outfield wall. Well, when running as fast as Broxton can and hitting a brick wall veiled by a covering of ivy, you’re liable to break something. Broxton did just that, fracturing his right wrist.

At Brewers On Deck in January, Broxton told me that the wrist was 100%. He reiterated the same when he got down to Spring Training last month. What’s more important is that his actions have backed up those words. Broxton was hitting .321/.424/.643 in 28 at-bats at the time of this post. That’s with a double, triple, and two home runs. He has struck out nine times, Mr. Rooney, but also walked five times. Recently, Counsell had discussed with the media in Arizona his desire to have Broxton settle into one of the top two spots in the batting order.

With a bevy of outfield prospects beginning to nip at his heels, 2017 is going to be an important campaign for Broxton. As someone who’s been down since day one on Broxton’s potential, you won’t find me suggesting that he won’t rise to the occasion this season. He’s shown that he’s got the talent. It’s just a matter of letting it continue to be realized.

Follow Keon on Twitter: @KeonDDBroxton

Looking to catch up on this season’s BBtJN? Just click on a name below:

#59 Carlos Torres
#57 Chase Anderson
#56 Ryan Webb
#54 Michael Blazek
#53 Jhan Mariñez
#52 Jimmy Nelson
#51 Damien Magnifico
#50 Jacob Barnes
#47 Jett Bandy
#46 Corey Knebel
#45 Tyler Cravy
#41 Junior Guerra
#38 Wily Peralta
#37 Neftalí Feliz
#35 Brent Suter
#33 Tommy Milone
#29 Yadiel Rivera
#28 Jorge Lopez
#27 Zach Davies
#26 Taylor Jungmann
#25 Michael Reed
#24 Jesús Aguilar

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