At the beginning of this season, Keon Broxton was the perfect example of how desperately chasing at bats in a very deep league can blow up in your face. He was drafted in a couple of my NL-only leagues before the season started, as it looked like he'd get a decent look in the Brewers outfield to open 2016. He'd beat out quite a bit of competition for his roster spot, and it can be awfully tempting to dream big and put too much stock in a rookie with playing time. Unfortunately for anyone who drafted Broxton and thought they'd hit some Trevor Story-like fantasy pay dirt, he lasted just two weeks into the season before getting demoted... without having gotten a single hit.
Broxton was originally a 29th round draft pick by the Phillies in 2008, but didn't sign. He ended up going to the Diamondbacks in the third round of the 2009 draft, but never gained much traction there, and was traded to the Pirates in 2014, getting a grand total of two major league at bats before winding up with the Brewers. After bouncing between AAA and the majors a few times this season, by July 1st he'd collected 75 major league plate appearances. He had a batting average of .125 with a 44% strikeout rate. Not surprisingly, he was sent down once again.
Looking at his most recent stint in the majors, though, things change drastically. He was recalled on July 26th, and his numbers could not look more different from his earlier 2016 stats. In 68 plate appearances over the last three weeks or so, he is hitting .357 with an OBP of .463. He has two home runs, nine runs, nine RBI, and ten stolen bases after swiping two on Wednesday. Craig Counsell has had Broxton leading off two of the last three games, despite the fact that his teammate Jonathan Villar has more steals than anyone in the major leagues not named Billy Hamilton. Why is Broxton suddenly hitting? He has no fancy pedigree and there are no charts to show you that he will ever be a particularly successful hitter at the major league level. Broxton is owned in only 18% of CBS Sports, 10% of Yahoo, and 8% of ESPN leagues... but Counsell clearly has some faith in Broxton's skills. Should you have the same faith in his ability to help your fantasy team?
The last three weeks is a small sample size, of course, but if your fantasy team is in need of stolen bases, now might be the time to pounce on Broxton. I often like to consider the emotional element of being a major league baseball player in an attempt to understand success that doesn't seem to have an obvious statistical explanation. Watching Wednesday's Brewers game, it was clear listening to their announcers that Counsell has been extremely impressed with Broxton of late, and intends to give him every chance to let him prove himself at the major league level over the remainder of the season. On Wednesday, he stole his two bases when the Brewers were losing 6-0. Granted, Jon Lester was pitching, so the team may have had a permanent green light to run no matter what the situation, but it was a reminder that Broxton will probably be allowed to run just about any time he gets on base. (The Brewers have an eye-popping 133 stolen bases this year -- most in the majors and a full 24 more than the second-place team, Hamilton's Reds). Also, his approach at the plate was discussed, and it sounds like his most recent trip to the minors had a profound effect on him. According to the Brewers' announcers, Broxton had a revelation that his baseball career was possibly hanging by a thread, and actually lay in bed one night and came up with several improvements and tweaks to his batting stance and approach at the plate. Whatever he came up with, it seems to be working.
Will it keep working? Probably not to the tune of a .357 batting average, or a .529 BABIP, which is the number he's put up since July 26th. But if a handful of steals can gain you a few precious fantasy points, Keon Broxton could be just what you need. In addition to being incredibly fast, he has proven to be a smart base runner, with only a single caught stealing to go with his 17 successful swipes. It is no wonder Counsell likes seeing Broxton at the top of the order after suffering through some horrific base running by Villar, who has been caught stealing a whopping 16 times, has already suffered a two-game benching due to his mental mistakes, and still seems make a dumb error on the base paths nearly every time he gets aboard. Broxton, meanwhile, has gone from thinking that he might have blown his one big chance at a major league gig, to having the opportunity to prove he belongs on the Brewers -- and possibly even at the top of their lineup --in 2017. And sometimes a little real-life motivation from an unlikely player can be exactly what your pretend baseball team needs.