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Bernie On The Scene: Another Power Arm for the Reds

Bernie Pleskoff is a former pro scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. He is a "graduate" of the Major League Scouting Bureau's Scout School in Phoenix Arizona. Prior to getting into baseball, Bernie served as Dean of Campus Life at Loyola University Chicago for 27 years. He is married and lives with his wife Lynn in Cave Creek, Arizona. He'll share his weekly thoughts on prospects with RotoWire from a scouting perspective.

There are times when I want to use this space to introduce readers to a lesser- known prospect who may be a couple years away from the big leagues. Brad Boxberger is one of those players.

Boxberger finds himself in a suddenly more “pitching rich” Cincinnati Reds organization. The club may have the luxury of giving him considerable time to hone his skills in the minor leagues. Boxberger is a definite prospect, but he is still a work in progress. He is a pitcher on the rise for the Reds.

Brad Boxberger grew up in Tustin, California where he played baseball at Foothill High School in Santa Anita, California. Like his father Rod, who happened to be the MVP in the 1978 College World Series, Brad attended University of Southern California. At USC, Brad went 6-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts. He walked 50 and struck out 99. The walks were an issue for some scouts, and his control is an area of constant refinement in his development. Before he was drafted by the Reds as a supplemental first-round pick in 2009, the Royals had drafted him in the 20th round in 2006. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his dad and he chose to go to USC instead of signing a contract to play professional baseball.

Boxberger joined right-hander Mike Leake as first-round pitchers taken by the Reds in 2009. Leake was taken as the No. 8 selection and received a $2.27-million dollar bonus from the Reds. As the No. 43 pick (supplemental), Boxberger received a bonus of $857,000. While that certainly is a very, very nice payday, it shows the vast difference in the value placed on various draft slots. Leake is now pitching and doing very well for the Reds. Boxberger is pitching at High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League. That is the reality of the pay scale in relation to draft rounds in baseball. But make no mistake; Leake is far more advanced in development and ability than Boxberger at these stages of their respective careers.

Boxberger pitched in the 2009 Arizona Fall League, as did Leake. I got to see them both.

During his first real exposure to quality hitters in the AFL, Boxberger flashed a very solid power arm with a moving fastball that hit the high 90s more often than not. He was billed as a pitcher with mid-90s velocity, but that certainly wasn’t the case. He regularly flirted with 97 with an easy motion. In addition, Boxberger threw impressive sliders and cutters with little to no effort. The 10 miles per hour differential in speed from the fastball left hitters off balance and “reaching” for pitches. He also showed a nice mid-80s curve as well as spotting a changeup. Of his secondary pitches, his slider and curve looked impressive enough to give him the promise of a major league arsenal for the future. The changeup needs the most work. It is the change of speeds as well as moving hitter’s eye levels that make Boxberger a very practical candidate for a mid-rotation starting role.

Boxberger is savvy enough to know that he has to have multiple pitches in his repertoire to be successful. In the AFL, his sequencing looked like he had thought about his pitches just before throwing the ball. He showed maturity and confidence on the mound. It was all a matter of not always controlling where his pitchers were going that caused Boxberger and the Reds staff some concern in the Fall League. But like many pitchers with his lack of experience, the command and control may be the final pieces of the puzzle.

It’s interesting to note that Boxberger served as a closer in college as well as starting games. He has the type of arm strength and power to work at the back end of the bullpen, giving the Reds another option for his services. He could be successful in either role- starter or back end of the bullpen reliever.

There are a number of items still to be polished in Boxberger’s game. Each corrected flaw will aid the overall command and control of his pitches. When I saw him in the AFL, he had difficulty repeating his delivery. There were times when his mechanics were very clean and pure. At other points, he varied widely from his low ¾ arm angle and lost control of his pitches. If he opened up to soon and didn’t “finish” his pitches he totally lost the “feel” for pitching and he began to fall behind in counts. In those instances, he had to come to the middle of the plate in an effort to catch up. That’s when pitchers get whacked.

My other basic concern with Boxberger was his lack of a real “out” pitch that he could depend on in any count against any given hitter. All his pitches were average, but not one of them really stood out as a top- notch pitch. Even with the outstanding velocity, the fastball didn’t seem to overwhelm hitters. It's a good pitch, but it still needs work.

All things considered, Boxberger’s job now is to learn how to refine his technique enough to become a pitcher with several arrows in his quiver. He has to repeat his delivery and polish his secondary pitches. He can’t afford to have hitters sit on his fastball. Currently, Boxberger is 3-4 in 10 starts at High-A Lynchburg, while he has a 51:16 K:BB ratio.

Within one fall to spring timeframe, the Reds added Leake, Boxberger and Aroldis Chapman as very worthy arms for the organization. What’s even better is that none came via trade. They did not cost the club players in return, which is quite an accomplishment. Add the names Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez… and wow! The young pitching and the number of exciting position/hitting prospects are the reasons I believe the Reds have one of the finest current minor league organizations in baseball.

Keep Brad Boxberger on your radar screen. He’s a name to remember and possibly stash for the future. He’s a solid middle of the rotation starter with enough on his pitches to work in the pen if necessary. He just needs experience and repetition.