With the 43rd overall pick in the 2009 draft, the Cincinnati Reds selected University of Southern California pitcher Brad Boxberger.
Boxberger was a draft eligible junior who is listed at 6-2 and 200 lbs, but likely stands closer to 6-0. He both bats right and throws right. He joins Mike Leake to give the Reds a one-two punch of polished college pitching prospects in their first two picks.
Boxberger certainly has the bloodlines for success, as his father Rod went 12-1 with a 2.00 ERA and earned College World Series MVP award for the 1978 national championship USC team. Brad was drafted out of high school by the Royals in the 20th round of the 2006 draft, but he chose instead to follow in his father's footsteps by attending USC.
Boxberger jumped right into the starting rotation as a freshman and quickly proved that he belonged. He started 14 games and worked in 90.0 innings posting a 3.20 ERA with a 72/34 K/BB ratio in a tough Pac-10 conference. His performance was so strong that he took over the Friday night starter duties for the Trojans.
His sophomore season didn't go quite as well, as he split time between the rotation and the bullpen. Over 18 total games and 9 starts, Boxberger posted a 6.12 ERA in 50.0 innings with a 52/26 K/BB ratio. He missed roughly 3 weeks due to elbow soreness and ultimately ended the season as the team's closer.
During his junior season, Boxberger showed no lingering effects of his elbow injury. He went back to starting fulltime, making 14 starts and tossing 94.0 innings. He posted a 3.16 ERA with a 99/50 K/BB ratio. His performance was strong enough to earn him All-Pac-10 honors and reestablish his MLB prospect status.
ARSENAL AND MECHANICS
Boxberger works with three solid pitches that have plus potential. He throws a 91-93 mph fastball with good movement that touches 94 on occasion, a 78-80 mph curveball, and a circle changeup that has good late sink to it. He needs to demonstrate more consistency with his pitches, especially his offspeed offerings. His overall command also needs improvement, as it tends to come and go. But, he has a good feel for pitching, which should help his development.
On the mound, Boxberger uses fairly conventional mechanics. To start his delivery, he moves his left foot forward and rotates his right foot on the rubber. He then brings his left leg up into his leg kick, which includes significant hip rotation. In fact, his leg kick includes so much hip rotation that he almost points his knee at the second base and shows his back to the hitters. It's not quite that extreme, but it's certainly heading in that direction.
Here's a look at him in action:
He keeps his hands up near his chin until after his leg kick and he breaks his hands. He has a good arm swing and keeps his elbow in good relation to his shoulder. His lower body drive off the mound isn't strong and his stride is rather short, which leaves him with a very upright delivery and follow through. Ultimately, his lack of a strong push off the mound prevents him from utilizing his body as effectively as he could, which is somewhat surprising because of the significant hip rotation that he uses.
Boxberger isn't very tall, so he doesn't have the advantage of pitching on a downward plane. In addition, he doesn't come completely over the top, but rather utilizes a high three-quarter arm slot with a free-and-easy arm action. In fact, his arm action is so loose that at times it looks like he slings the ball to the plate, which could help explain his inconsistency.
Overall, his pitching mechanics are fairly clean and there aren't any significant red flags, but he could do a better job of throwing with his body to minimize stress on the arm. The fact that he suffered from an elbow injury in college isn't a great sign, but it wasn't serious and he doesn't seem to be suffering from any lingering effects.
Boxberger is an intriguing prospect, but I'm not entirely sure what we have yet. Prior to his strong junior season, many scouts projected him as more of a reliever, but his performance last year changed some minds. Part of me looks at Boxberger and sees a new version of Sam LeCure. A good, polished college pitcher whose game ultimately didn't translate very well to the professional ranks. However, Boxberger undeniably has better stuff and if things break right in his development he has the chance for two or three plus pitches. At the very least, he has a couple ticks in velocity on LeCure, which can only help his chances.
It'll be interesting to see how Boxberger's game translates to the professional ranks, but he certainly adds another interesting arm to a Reds farm system in need of them. Boxberger and Mike Leake should add quality and depth to the list of pitching prospects in the system.