Broxton brings experience, bulk to bullpen
Burly reliever working his way back from elbow surgery
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- You look at Jonathan Broxton, a big ol' boy at 6-4 and 300 or so pounds, and you wonder if he was always a big 'un. You know, back when he was a kid in Georgia.
Sitting quietly on his chair in the Royals' spring clubhouse, Broxton thought a moment.
"I really don't know," he said softly, "because when I was 6, I always played with 12-year-olds so when I look back at pictures I was the smallest one on the team so I really don't know."
OK, let's just assume that if he was a mite smaller than the 12-year-olds in Waynesboro, Ga., he was large for a 6-year-old.
"They kicked me out of T-ball. They wouldn't let me play T-ball," he said. "They said I was going to hurt somebody. I went and played with the 12-year-olds and I actually made the All-Star team and they wouldn't let me play that. They said I was too young to play that."
Too big and too young? Where was the commissioner to rule on that issue?
At any rate, Broxton now is a bona fide Major League All-Star who had terrific seasons as a closer with the Los Angeles Dodgers and, at 27, figures to be a big part of the Royals' bullpen.
"He was an intimidating power-arm closer. In his peak, he was a 96, 98 mile-an-hour fastball, a slider, throws strikes, on the attack," manager Ned Yost said. "He's a big guy, he's very quiet. He's a man of few words. Very good-natured guy. Very smart, knows what he wants to do, knows how to go about it."
Broxton didn't do a lot last season, held to 14 games because of bone spurs in his elbow. That finally resulted in surgery last Sept. 19.
"It wasn't a major surgery where you have to be out a long time," he said.
When Spring Training began, the Royals worked him in slowly and got him in a competitive situation for the first time on Sunday in a "B" game against the Texas Rangers. He faced five batters in the first inning and, after Mitch Moreland singled, got two outs including a strikeout of Adrian Beltre and issued two walks. After 27 pitches, the inning was waved to a close.
"The elbow feels fine but I was a little rusty out there," Broxton said. "The timing wasn't all there but the elbow feels fine so that's all that matters right now. I'm just going to build off that and the next time out I'll worry about some more stuff."
Broxton tested his fastball, slider and curve, and while he declared the pitches not that well executed, he didn't feel tired, which was a plus. He's scheduled to pitch again in Wednesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria.
So it was good news for the Royals who put Broxton on their radar when he became a free agent over the winter after seven seasons with the Dodgers. If he was healthy again, they figured he'd be a good setup man for closer Joakim Soria and, if anything happened to Soria, he'd provide a fallback option.
As it happened, Broxton loves to hunt and, heck, there was Yost also living in Georgia and his buddy, funnyman Jeff Foxworthy, had all these acres with deer running around and ... it was come on over and hunt a spell.
"He's an everyday hunter, he loves it. He's in [Luke] Hochevar's class," Yost said.
So they went bow-hunting. Broxton was given a crossbow -- no sense risking that pitching elbow by pulling back on a string -- and he and Yost, fellow Georgian Jeff Francoeur and the gang got out in the woods and had a good ol' time. So was this hunting trip the reason that Broxton and Royals general manager Dayton Moore later agreed on a one-year, $4-million deal?
"No, I just heard so much good stuff about 'em. A lot of young kids around here," Broxton said. "It kind of reminds you of the Dodgers I played with in '06. Brought up a bunch of young guys and we made the playoffs. Hopefully we can do that this year. I think Dayton went out, worked hard and filled some holes that he needed to, and hopefully we're going to get in the right direction."
Broxton will join Soria in a bullpen that last year was dominated by rookies who, collectively, did quite well. Successful himself early in his career with the Dodgers, Broxton knows the Royals' young pitchers will have opponents waiting in ambush this year and that perhaps his experience can help them avoid the pitfalls.
"Everybody was young down there so it's pretty easy to pitch that first year," he said. "Once everybody gets video out there and sees you over and over, you've got to start mixing it up some. So hopefully I can help them out this year and we can get where we need to go."
Broxton got to some wonderful places with the Dodgers. He reached the postseason three times and it was his perfect ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs in 2008 that put LA in the National League Championship Series for the first time in 20 years. Twice he was named to the All-Star team and his save clinched the NL's 3-1 win in 2010 in Anaheim.
"Yeah, it'd be nice to win a World Series but closing out an All-Star Game like I did in 2010 was pretty special," he said. "There's only one All-Star Game. A World Series, you get seven games. So that's just the way I've looked at it so far and if I can just get a World Series now, it'll be pretty special."
Broxton piled up 503 strikeouts in 392 innings for the Dodgers and notched 84 saves including a high of 36 in 2009. Though he gained his fame as a closer, he readily accepts the setup role.
"Whatever it takes for us to win. I'm happy with the role I have now," he said. "I've had both of these roles, setup and closing, and they're both important outs. It's just those last three are more known about -- you see 'em a lot more on TV closing out games. But they're all important. You've got to get the ball to the closer."
Broxton figures he can handle any task on his broad shoulders which, by the way, run in the family.
"Yeah, everybody's wide through the shoulders and definitely not on the smaller end, so it runs in the genes," he said.
So does playing ball. Both his father, Randy, and his mother, Essie, were top softball players who played on traveling teams. Now dad coaches baseball at a private school and mom is a public school secretary.
"My whole family's been around ball," he said. "My brother Chris went to a junior college on baseball and hurt his shoulder and my sister Jeanne had a chance to go play fast-pitch softball and she turned it down to stay closer to home."
When Broxton finished his "B" game outing on Sunday, he did some running and then stopped to gather up his son Brooks in his arms. Broxton and wife Elizabeth just had a second boy, Blaine, on Feb. 1 so Brooks is the only ballplayer at the moment.
"My son's probably going to fall right in my footsteps," Broxton said. "He's 2 and I can pitch to him right now and he can hit. It's pretty awesome to watch, especially knowing it's your kid out there and the ball's not just sitting on a tee. You can actually move the ball around and he'll hit it. It's just pretty amazing to watch."
Yep, and maybe by the time Brooks is 6, he'll be playing with the 12-year-olds.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.