After 30 teams had finished selecting 1,216 players in the 2016 Draft, the Rays realized they needed a versatile infielder for their Rookie-level Gulf Coast League roster. Assistant for amateur scouting Tim Stegall called area scout James Bonnici and asked if he had anyone in mind.
Four years later, the Rays found themselves tied with the Yankees in the eighth inning of the deciding game of the American League Division Series and needed a run to advance to the AL Championship Series for the first time since 2008. And the player whom Bonnici recommended and signed as a nondrafted free agent for $1,000 rose to the challenge.
Facing Aroldis Chapman, who had thrown a 101-mph fastball just over his head in September and struck him out to end Game 4 the night before, Mike Brosseau fell behind in the count 0-2. Just as he defied the odds to reach the Majors, he again would accomplish the improbable.
Brosseau battled back to a full count, fouling off a pair of mid-80s sliders and a pair of 99-mph fastballs to stay alive. In the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Chapman unleashed a 100-mph heater on the inside part of the plate and Brosseau turned on it, lining the ball into the left-field seats for a 2-1 lead that held up and sent Tampa Bay to the next round.
Bonnici was in Pullman, Wash., to scout Washington State and watching what he called the highlight of his 20-year scouting career unfold in his hotel room.
"When he got down 0-2, I was like, uh oh, here comes the high fastball, and they got him the night before," Bonnici said. "I've got to give it to him because from signing him to seeing him now, his plate discipline is fantastic. The next couple of pitches that he laid off were pretty tough to lay off of. And for him to work the count to even and foul off a couple of good pitches, I just thought it was surreal and incredible.
"I couldn't believe that he did it, to be honest. You've got the white knuckles, you're vested in the team, you're vested in a game that's that high leverage. And he came through."
Bonnici played 10 years of pro ball, signing as a 58th-round pick with the Mariners out of Adams High (Rochester Hills, Mich.) in 1990. He got 18 at-bats in the Japan League and topped out at Triple-A in the United States before joining the Rays as an area scout in 2000. He has signed six big leaguers, including National League Rookie of the Year candidate Jake Cronenworth and 2017 No. 4 overall pick Brendan McKay.
Brosseau first popped up on Bonnici's radar in the fall of 2014 before his junior season at Oakland University. Bonnici was very familiar with the Horizon League program because he grew up in the area, his mother had worked at the school and he was living five minutes away as a scout. Then-Golden Grizzlies coach John Musachio touted Brosseau to the evaluators who came to Oakland's scout day.
Brosseau carried about 170 pounds on his 5-foot-9 frame at the time, and Bonnici remembers thinking he was a nice small-college player with no better-than-average tool. He batted .287 with seven homers in the spring of 2015 and went undrafted, just as he had out of Andrean High (Merrillville, Ind.) in 2012.
As a senior in 2016, Brosseau added some strength and put up the best numbers of his career, batting .354/.456/.571 to lead the Horizon League in on-base percentage while ranking second in slugging and home runs (10). He played well against Wright State when teams went to see Raiders catcher Sean Murphy, who would go in the third round to the Athletics. Scouts loved Brosseau's makeup, but he still didn't fit a classic pro profile or exhibit a carrying tool.
"We were all in the same agreement, just a good college player," Bonnici said. "It's one of those things as a scout, it's tough to sink your teeth into 'Oh, he's 5-9, he runs average, he throws average, what are his big separating tools?' I'll have to admit there really weren't any separating tools for me for Mike, but he had just a really solid game across the board and that's what stuck out to me."
So when Stegall called looking to plug a hole on the Rays' GCL roster, Bonnici immediately responded that he knew someone. Brosseau was ecstatic when offered a chance to play pro ball. He didn't want to waste any time.
"We signed him the next day, and when I went to sign him, I'm expecting to maybe put him on a flight the next day to get him down there," Bonnici said. "He had already had his bags packed in his car. I had no clue that they were in his trunk.
"He's like, well aren't I leaving now? I was like, you want to go now? I was planning on flying you out the next day. So I called our travel agent and I flew him out later that afternoon. He got down there ASAP. He really wanted to play."
Brosseau began exceeding expectations immediately. He hit .320 with a .405 on-base percentage in his first two pro seasons, then started showing more power when he slugged 13 homers in Double-A in 2018 and 16 homers in just 73 games in Triple-A in '19. It delighted Bonnici to read internal scouting reports that noted Brosseau was displaying improved bat speed, foot speed and plate discipline as he rose through the Minors.
The Rays called Brosseau up for the first time on June 22 last year, and he singled in his debut the next day. He was up for six days, returned to Triple-A for five, then hit his first big league home run when Tampa Bay recalled him on July 3. In 86 games and 240 plate appearances during the last two years, Brosseau has batted .284/.343/.500 with 11 homers while seeing action at second base, third base, first base, left field, right field, DH -- and even four games at pitcher.
Brosseau went 4-for-8 in the first two rounds of the 2020 playoffs, and his blast off Chapman came off the fastest pitch hit for a homer in the regular season or postseason this year. It's also the fastest turned into a homer by any Rays player since pitch tracking began in 2008.
At the rate he's going, Brosseau's ALDS home run looks more like a highlight than the pinnacle of his career.
"I don't think the story is all the way written for him," Bonnici said. "He's going to have a fantastic Major League career. He really is. He's one of those guys that's in the clubhouse all the time early, he's a glue guy, he plays multiple positions. He's got a chance to have a storybook career.
"Most of those nondrafted guys just don't. Maybe they get a cup of coffee and they're done or maybe they get a couple of years and they're done. He's got a chance to play a lot of years in the Major Leagues and it's a credit to him, really, because he's got the want to, the willpower, and he's one of most gracious and humble guys you'll meet."
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly MLB Pipeline Podcast.