Broxton Reaches 101 -- Just About Ready

There is a screen located to the right of the scoreboard at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville that reveal the speed of pitches to all. The other night it flashed "98". Pretty impressive but wait! In order to reach that screen the signal has to travel from home plate through a concrete wall up to its location. That distance, says the law of physics, reduces the actual speed by three miles per hour. So, the true time of that particular pitch was 101.

It was thrown by Suns righthander Jonathan Broxton and that would put him up with a very elite group that would include Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan in their prime plus some legendary wildmen like Steve Dalkowski. And that even impressed Broxton. "Wow," he exclaimed. "I've thrown 98, even 99, but that's hard to believe."

Believe it, say those who've been monitoring Broxton's progress. He came into organized ball throwing in the low 90's and has steadily pushed it up the scale since. Now that he's a closer, he can let it fly -- and he does.

Broxton is the point man in a plan the Dodgers are starting to put into effect that operates on the theory that some prime prospects who have always been starters may well go to the bullpen when they reach The Show. Get 'em ready now is the thought.

Is Broxton ready? Listen to Terry Collins, the director of player development. "He's very close to being ready. He's taken to the role and loves it."

He's echoed by Suns' pitching coach Kenny Howell. "He's ready for the big leagues. I don't think there's anything else he needs to do in this league."

Broxton was always one that some observers have suggested would at some time assume a closer's role. Not that he was doing badly as a starter, mind you. After all, he won 11 games for Vero Beach in that capacity a year ago and this season had been pitching effectively out of the rotation. No, it's just that now he can come in without pacing himself and go all out.

Broxton also has a sharp slider. However, a big guy at 6-4, 240, who has had to watch his weight, he seems able to handle this assignment physically and mentally. And that raises the question of what the club is to do with him.

While Eric Gagne, the nearest thing to an infallible closer that there is in the game, is out for the year, Yhency Brazoban has taken over. True, Brazoban has been fallible at times but there has never been any scramble to seek a replacement for him. After he blew a recent game by allowing a walk-off homer, pitching coach Jim Colburn voiced his faith in him, whereupon Brazoban went out and closed two more successfully to set the Dodger rookie record in that department.

That leaves L.A. with the luxury of (a) either bringing Broxton up as a set-up man or (b) trading him. Certainly the many scouts who regularly follow Jacksonville hoping to pick off some of the prime prospects who toil there in a deal, have placed him extremely high on their lists.

Why not? He's a crowd-pleaser in the Gagne mold. What's more, he's only 21 and just learning this new craft. Wherever he winds up, he's sure to light up the speed guns in the area.