CINCINNATI -- Right-handed pitching prospect Brad Boxberger did nothing this fall to dissuade speculation he is on the fast track for a spot in the Reds' bullpen sometime next season.
In fact, Boxberger probably made the drumbeats thump even louder in his favor. The 23-year-old was one of two relievers to be named over the weekend to the Arizona Fall League's 2011 Top Prospects Team.
The 23-year-old Boxberger had a 5.40 ERA in 11 AFL games for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, but had scoreless appearances in eight of those outings. His final game resulted in four earned runs scoring.
Boxberger was second in the AFL with three saves and 10 games finished. He led relievers with a 14.85 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio and had only six walks to 22 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.
The AFL is generally a proving ground for the more elite prospects in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, so the talent pool is deep.
It was only a little more than two years ago that Boxberger was a supplemental first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, 43rd overall, out of the Univ. of Southern California. He was taken in the same Draft as starter Mike Leake, who went straight to the Majors.
Boxberger had a slower track and had more struggles in 2010 during his first pro season. He was a combined 5-10 with a 4.91 ERA in 36 games, including 13 starts, at high Class A and Double-A as he was also converted from a starter to reliever after the promotion.
A groove was found this past season when Boxberger posted a 2.03 ERA in 55 games combined at Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville. He saved 11 games and finished 34 with 28 walks and 93 strikeouts in only 62 innings. His first seven outs of the AFL season and 11 of his first 17 were recorded via the strikeout.
"I do not spend much time dwelling on past successes or failures," Boxberger wrote on his AFL blog Nov. 16. "This year seems like it went by in the blink of an eye, and I am already looking towards the future."
The near-term future indicates there should be a chance to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training. Cincinnati had the ninth-ranked bullpen in the National League with a 3.55 ERA this past season and some openings heading into next year.
There could be a gaping hole in the closer's spot should free agent Francisco Cordero not return, although it would be too much to expect Boxberger to claim this role after only 25 games at the Triple-A level. Right-handed setup man Nick Masset is coming off his most inconsistent season, and the Reds are prepping lefty setup man Aroldis Chapman to compete for a rotation spot. After a spectacular start to his 2011 season, right-hander Logan Ondrusek faded down the stretch, in part, because of a strained forearm.
According to MLB.com columnist, and former scout, Bernie Pleskoff, Boxberger's repertoire is a fit for the late innings. It includes a fastball ranging anywhere from 90-95 mph, and is backed up by a strong slider plus an 80-86 mph curveball and 70-76 mph changeup.
"The pitch variation and velocity differential are major factors in hitters looking off balance and confused at the plate," Pleskoff wrote. "In addition to using his pitches in good sequence, Boxberger has improved his command with experience."
After a short break, Boxberger plans to get back to work to prepare for Spring Training. He might try some spinning classes on the exercise bike and resume throwing in December.
"My first goal is to establish a strong cardio and lifting program," Boxberger wrote. "I will have personal goals in mind, but the first priority is to create a new routine now that I won't be at the field for the majority of my day."