The Cincinnati Reds pulled off the most recent – and equally shocking – trade thus far during the offseason. While top prospects Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso and fallen top-of-the-rotation starter Edinson Volquez garner much of the attention – and rightfully so – Brad Boxberger has gone largely unnoticed, a spare part thrown into the deal, or so it seems. But Boxberger, like Grandal and Alonso, is also a former first rounder, though of the supplemental variety, and a promising future closer.
Boxberger, originally drafted in the twentieth round by the Kansas City Royals out of high school, ascended the draft charts during his time at Southern California and was chosen by Cincinnati with the forty-seventh pick in the 2009 draft.
According to the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, “When the Reds drafted Boxberger out of Southern California, they planned on using the same approach they had mapped out for Zach Stewart in his first professional season – half the season in the rotation, then to the bullpen to limit his innings.”
Boxberger’s time in the rotation lasted 13 starts, all with the Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League. His numbers, solid across the board, ranked among the better league performers: his SO/9, 10.2, is the fifth highest among pitchers with 50+ innings. Overall, the right-hander went 4-6 with a solid 3.19 ERA and 3.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Cincinnati, as part of the original plan, moved Boxberger to the bullpen and promoted him to the Carolina Mudcats of the Southern League, and, surprisingly, or perhaps not, his season quickly spiraled downward. According the Prospect Handbook, Boxberger became too reliant on his mid-90s fastball. In 22 games (29.2 innings), the son of Rod Boxberger, the 1978 College World Series MVP, sported an un-MVP like 8.49 ERA and averaged nearly seven walks per every nine innings.
Cincinnati opted to keep him in Double-A to start this season, and the results were, well, downright impressive. His 1.31 ERA was the league’s best, and his strikeout rate spiked to 14.9 SO/9 as his walk rate, 3.4 BB/9, improved as well. He was then promoted to Triple-A, Louisville Bats, where he, simply put, looked near-big-league ready.
With the Bats, he tossed 27.2 innings with a 2.93 ERA and averaged almost 12 strikeouts every nine innings, though his walk rate, 4.9 BB/9, was a little unsightly. And for those that like traditional stats, he saved 11 games between both levels.
Overall, Brad Boxberger has quietly thrust his name up among the game’s elite relief prospects. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can touch as high 95 mph. He complements that above-average pitch with two others: a promising changeup and slider.
Not only has San Diego acquired Volquez, Alonso, a promising young first baseman, and Grandal, one of the games better catching prospects; as ESPN’s Keith Law points out, they acquired a possible long term replacement for recently departed Heath Bell.
Boxberger could begin the season back in Triple-A for added seasoning – and also to see if he can improve on the lackluster walk rate – but he isn’t far from becoming a regular in the Padres’ bullpen rotation.
Meet Brad Boxberger, a future 30+ save closer who’s likely to be around for a long, long time (barring any injury of course).