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Sunday Notes: Undrafted, Reds Prospect Braxton Roxby is Borderline Unhittable

Braxton Roxby was an unpolished gem when the Cincinnati Reds signed him as a non-drafted free agent last summer. A 6-foot-3, 235-pound right-hander, Roxby possessed projectable stuff, but his resume was anything but shiny. In three collegiate seasons with the Division-II Pittsburgh-Johnstown Mountain Cats, he logged a 7.31 ERA. Moreover, that number was 9.68 in his junior year.

Then came Kyle Boddy and the Reds pitching-development machine.

In what is shaping up as one of the best underdog stories in recent memory, Roxby has been shoving in his first professional season. Pitching in a relief role for the High-A Dayton Dragons, the 22-year-old hurler has surrendered just four hits and one run in 16 innings. He’s punched out 28 batters.

How he ended up signing with Cincinnati is a story in itself. Roxby talked to 20-plus teams after being bypassed in last year’s truncated draft, and the tenors of the conversations were largely the same… with one notable exception.

“The Reds were the only team to take it a step above,” said Roxby, who majored in Civil Engineering at Pittsburgh Johnstown. “They had me on a Zoom meeting — [Director of Pitching] Kyle Boddy and [Assistant Pitching Coach] Eric Jagers were both on there — and they had video breaking down my mechanics, as well as the analytics of my pitches and how I can use them better. That made it hard not to choose them.”

Reworking his mechanics proved to be a challenge. Roxby spent the offseason trying to get his “pelvis more open at foot-strike, and get more optimal separation,” but ultimately found himself going “back to old patterns” once he added intent to his deliveries. Even so, while the intended major adjustment never materialized, he does feel the efforts bore fruit. He’s getting better extension, and is getting over his front side more efficiently.

Repertoire-wise, he’s improved his four-seam command and is working on a one-seam fastball to give him a weapon to use inside to righties. Not surprisingly, the reason for the new offering is data driven.

“So, I actually cut the ball,” explained Roxby. “Watching Edgertronic film, I’m cutting the baseball so we decided to go with the one-seam to allow for a seam-shifted wake to get that arm-side run, rather than a traditional two-seam, which ended up having some depth but didn’t really get the look that I want.”

Roxby’s four-seamer, which gets natural cut, is typically between 91 and 95 mph, while his work-in-progress one-seamer is thrown with a similar velocity. And then there is his 80-84-mph slider. Roxby has been relying on his signature offering over 60 percent of the time, and once again, data is the driver.

“If you look at the advanced statistics in Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball — everywhere — it’s a pitch that is hit less,” said Roxby. “It’s hit with less average exit velocity, so it produces much less damage than any other pitch.”

There have been games when it’s the only pitch he’s thrown. When Roxby made his professional debut in early May, he struck out the side on 15 straight sliders. On three separate occasions he’s worked an inning without throwing a single fastball.

I asked the righty what makes his slider so effective.

“It’s unordinary because it’s a big sweeping slider,” Roxby reasoned. “It gets way more horizontal movement than it does vertical. I threw a couple in spring training that got 20-plus inches of horizontal movement with less than two inches of vertical. It’s a pitch that hitters aren’t used to seeing, so when I come in for an inning they don’t have time to adjust.”

Which brings us to the question I felt most compelled to ask: Why did he have a nine-something ERA at a DII school?

“I had the same stuff I have now, I just didn’t know how to use it, or when to use it,” responded Roxby. “I didn’t know how to sequence hitters… all of the things I learned during instructs and in spring training, and that I’m still experimenting with now.

“I know it wasn’t looking good after my junior season,” continued Roxby. “Coming out of my sophomore season I thought I had it figured out — I had a good summer in a small stint on the Cape — but then I came into my junior season and kind of got hit in the mouth. But when you get knocked down, you just get back up. I came here and learned how to be a better pitcher.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Damon Berryhill went 5 for 7 against Willie Blair.

Quintin Berry went 5 for 8 against Justin Masterson.

Sean Berry went 7 for 10 against Tom Urbani.

Ken Berry went 8 for 15 against Rudy May.

Darryl Strawberry went 1 for 28 against Bob Welch.

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Joe Smith’s ascent up the all-time-appearances list led last Sunday’s column. Left on the cutting-room floor from my conversation with the Houston Astros reliever were his thoughts on a subject that was only tangentially related. Segueing from his own accomplishments — and with an earlier interaction in mind — Smith shared his thoughts on the evolution of pitching.

David Freese was one of the best righty-versus-lefty matchups in the big leagues,” Smith said of the erstwhile infielder, who slashed .303/.381/.472 against opposite-handed pitchers over the course of his career. “I asked him, ‘What’s the difference now?’ He said it was the cutter. David told me that he could always see the spin on the slider, and now you’ve got these guys that… what people don’t understand is that if you have a cutter, a sinker and a four-seam fastball, you might go, ‘Oh, they’re all fastballs.’ But these guys are so good that they’re three different pitches to a major-league hitter. You’ve got to guess which way it’s going, and you’ve got to make a seriously-quick decision because it’s moving at that kind of velocity.

“Now, with all the new technology, you’re able to learn new pitches faster,” continued Smith, who has been in the big leagues since 2007. “And with all the data that everybody has stored, we know which pitch shapes, at what velocity, work at this level. We know which pitches give hitters the most fits. I know the league is in this insane breaking ball mode — we’re throwing 90-mph sliders now — but when you can move a fastball around…. guys like Lance Lynn and Brandon Woodruff have that fastball moving in all different directions, and that gives hitters fits just as much as anything.”

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A quiz:

Who holds the record for most games played in a season (regular season only)?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES AND NUMBERS

Per Baseball America, MLB teams employed 1,332 scouts in 2009. That number grew to 1,909 in 2019, but was down to 1,756 at the start of this season. The Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariner each have 23 fewer scouts than they did in 2019. Conversely, the Pittsburgh Pirates have added 17 since that time.

The Red Sox went into yesterday having scored 154 two-out runs, the most in the majors. Forty-four percent of their runs had been scored with two outs.

Eric Hosmer is slashing .195/.275/.280 with the bases empty, 302/.339/.440 with men on, .342/.388/.548 with RISP, and .375/.432/.550 with two outs and RISP.

Longtime Kansas City Royals PR maven Mike Swanson has announced that he’s retiring at the end of this season. “Swanee” has worked in baseball for each of the past 43 years.

Jacke Davis, whose big-league career comprised 48 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1962, died on Memorial Day weekend at age 85. Davis’s lone home run was a pinch-hit, three-run shot off Sandy Koufax.

SABR’s Golden Celebration Series gets underway on the weekend of June 25-27 and includes a Future-of-Women-in-Baseball panel, a Negro-Leagues-as-Major-Leagues panel, and much more. Information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Maury Wills, who played in 165 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1962. The Dodgers and San Francisco Giants finished that year’s scheduled 162-game docket with identical 101-61 records and played a best-of-three tie-breaker for the National League pennant. The Giants won, rallying for four runs in the ninth inning to take Game 3 by a score of 6-4.

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MID-JUNE NOTABLES — ATLANTIC LEAGUE SPECIAL

Alberto Callaspo is slashing .292/.424/.375 with the independent Atlantic League’s West Virginia Power. The 38-year-old infielder — a veteran of 10 MLB seasons — last played in the big leagues with the Dodgers in 2015.

Henry Owens has a 1.93 ERA in three starts for the Atlantic League’s Lexington Legends. The 28-year-old former top prospect in the Red Sox organization has 20 strikeouts in 14 innings.

Brandon Phillips has seven hits in 24 at bats for the Legends. The veteran of 17 big-league seasons celebrates his 40th birthday at the end of this month.

Lew Ford has 3 hits in 17 at bats for the Long Island Ducks. The 43-year-old former Twins and Orioles outfielder saw his last big-league action in 2012.

Mike Bolsinger has a 7.56 ERA in four starts for the Ducks. The 33-year-old former Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers right-hander played for NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines in 2018 and 2019 before sitting out last season.

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Fans tend to think of baseball players solely as… well, baseball players. Not that there aren’t exceptions — there are, especially since the advent of social media — but by and large, who they are away from the field is a mystery to most.

Spencer Strider, a fast-rising pitching prospect in the Atlanta Braves system, is big into reading and music.

“I’m not a big video game guy,” said Strider, whose pitching-nerd persona shone through in Friday’s feature interview. “I’m not a huge TV guy, either. The only things I really watch are the Star Wars and Marvel shows they’ve got running. Those and Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is the greatest show of all time in my opinion. But I really got into reading around the tail end of college. Everything that’s interesting to me seems to be in a book somewhere.”

Non-fiction is the Clemson University product’s go-to, with social justice a major theme.

“One of the books I’m reading now, which was just released by a professor of mine from high school, is called “Know Your Place: Helping White Southern Evangelicals Cope with the End of The(ir) World,” said Strider, who matriculated from Christian Academy, in Knoxville. “I have also been in and out of “Capitalism, Alone” by Branko Milanovic, a book he spent years compiling the data for. Another one I’ve been reading is “American Prophets: The Religious Roots of Progressive Politics and the Ongoing Fight for the Soul of the Country,” It’s very interesting, because I’ve always had the opinion that Christianity — modern American Christianity — advocates more for progressive liberal politics than it does for conservative political views. Of course, that’s not the larger opinion of the country.”

Strider also plays the guitar. He was in a band in high school — “most people seem to find that hilarious” — with Weezer and Green Day among the bands whose songs were covered. Mood dictates his current listening habits, and while Indie rock remains a favorite, his mother’s tastes have left a mark as well.

“I also like mellow classic rock,” admitted Strider. “When I was in the car with my mom we would always have on The Bridge, channel 32 on Sirius XM. It would be Paul Simon and that type of music. So that’s a lot of what I listen to, and I love jazz, too. I can’t play jazz guitar, but I probably listen to that more than anything else.”

Strider has been shredding on the bump. Pitching in his first professional season, he’s dominated hitters to the time of 56 punch outs in 30 innings. Two nights ago, he fanned an even dozen in six one-hit frames.

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FARM REPORT

Jamie Ritchie lead all minor-league hitters in batting average (.415) and OBP (.560). The 28-year-old catcher/outfielder has an 1.121 OPS in 109 plate appearances with the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Jack Weisenburger, a 23-year-old University of Michigan product who was featured here at Sunday Notes in late May, was recently promoted from High-A Lansing to Double-A Midland. Currently No. 22 on our Oakland A’s Top Prospects list, Weisenburger has a 2.45 ERA between the two levels.

Korey Lee, a 22-year-old catcher whom the Houston Astros drafted 32nd-overall in 2019 out of Cal Berkley, was promoted from High-A Asheville to Double-A Corpus Christi earlier this week. No. 4 on our Astros Top Prospects list, Lee is slashing .323/.387/.460 between the two levels.

Michael Harris II, a 20-year-old outfielder who is No. 4 on our Atlanta Braves Top Prospects list, is slashing .326/.347/.457 with three home runs for the High-A Rome Braves. The Stockbridge, Georgia native was a third-round pick in 2019.

Joe Gray Jr., a 21-year-old outfielder in the Brewers system, is slashing .310/.409/.683 with 10 home runs for the High-A Carolina Mudcats. The Hattiesburg, Mississippi native was Milwaukee’s second-round pick in the 2018 draft.

Darryl Collins, a 19-year-old outfielder in the Kansas City system, is slashing .306/.405/.426 with three home runs for the Low-A Columbia Fireflies. A native of Spijkenisse, Netherlands, Collins is No. 23 on our Royals Top Prospects list.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Japan announced its Tokyo Olympics roster this week, with Masahiro Tanaka, Tomoyuki Sugano, Kensuke Kondo, and Yuki Yanagita among the notables. Surprising omissions include lefty reliever Yuki Matsui, who has 18 saves and a 0.84 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Munetaka Murakami leads all NPB batters with 21 home runs. The 21-year-old corner infielder is slashing .280/.428/.621 with the Yakult Swallows.

Joe Gunkel is 5-0 with a 2.44 in eight starts with the Hanshin Tigers. The 29-year-old right-hander — an 18th-round pick by the Red Sox in 2013 — came to Japan last year after seven seasons stateside with four different organizations.

Tai-in Won is 8-4 with a 2.59 ERA in 12 appearances with the KBO’s Samsung Lions. The 21-year-old right-hander has 65 strikeouts in 73 innings.

Samsung’s Yang Euiji leads all KBO batters with an 1.107 OPS. The 34-year-old catcher is slashing .350/.467/.640 with 14 home runs.

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Who would be a better Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred or Scott Boras? I asked that question in a Twitter poll a few days ago, and the super-agent won in a landslide. Boras garnered 83.8%, while Manfred received a mere 16.2%

Make of that what you will.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Baseball America, Alexis Brudnicki wrote about Cal State Northridge outfielder Denzel Clarke — a native of Pickering, Ontario — who has emerged as a fast-rising draft prospect.

Kevin Gausman almost ended up pitching for the Dodgers, and now he’s thriving with the Giants with the help of data. Gabe Lacques has the story at USA Today.

Ryan Fagan wrote about baseball-card collecting — including his first experience as a seller at a card show — for The Sporting News.

Graham Womack attended an antique fair in Sacramento and ended up going home with a baseball signed by several Negro League notables, including Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, and Don Newcombe. Womack wrote about it at Baseball Past and Present.

SABR CEO Scott Bush was profiled in the University of Minnesota Alumni Association’s summer 2021 publication.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Albert Pujols’s has 67 career home runs in regular-season inter-league games, the most of any player. Jim Thome (64), Paul Konerko (60), and Miguel Cabrera (59) are next on the list. (per Jim Passon.)

Willie McCovey had 9,692 plate appearances and 70 sacrifice flies.
Torii Hunter had 9,692 plate appearances and 71 sacrifice flies.

Todd Helton had 1,398 runs scored and 1,398 RBIs.
Stan Musial had 1,949 runs scored and 1,951 RBIs.

Mel Ott had 181 doubles and 323 home runs in home games. He had 188 home runs and 306 doubles in away games.

Augie Bergamo slashed .304/.400/.401 in 589 career plate appearances, all with the St. Louis Cardinals. An outfielder who was name-checked in the David Frisberg song Van Lingle Mungo, Bergamo played in 1944 and 1945.

On today’s date in 1980, all nine batters in the California Angels lineup had at least two hits in a 20-2 rout of the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Freddy “The Flea” Patek homered three times for the winning side.

On June 16, 1934. Philadelphia Athletics outfielder “Indian Bob” Johnson went 6 for 6 with a pair of home runs in a 7-6 win over the Chicago White Sox. Johnson’s final hit of the game was a walk-off single.

On June 23, 1915, Bruno Haas made his big-league debut for the Philadelphia Athletics in a game against the New York Yankees. A southpaw, Haas pitched nine innings and allowed 13 hits and 15 runs. He walked 16, fanned four, and threw three wild pitches.

Players born on today’s date include Bobby Seay, a left-handed reliever who played for three teams and made 261 appearances from 2001-2009. Seay (pronounced “See”) went 3-0 with one save and a 2.33 ERA for the Detroit Tigers in 2007.

Also born on today’s date was Larry See, who appeared in 13 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1986, and 13 for the Texas Rangers in 1988. A corner infielder who logged eight big-league hits, See later played independent ball with the Duluth-Superior Dukes and the Thunder Bay Whiskey Jacks.


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