RICHMOND — Timing is everything in baseball: the late break of a curve ball, the rhythm of a level swing, a team getting hot as the playoffs approach.
In one sense, the timing of Ryan McBroom’s unexpected promotion to Double-A was serendipitous. The former Courtland High school star joined the New Hampshire Fisher Cats less than a week before their only series in Richmond all season, allowing the third-year pro’s family and friends a rare chance to see him play in person.
Now, after enjoying sustained success in the lower levels of the minor leagues, he’s trying to catch up with the superior pitching of Double-A. So far, it’s been a struggle. Entering Friday’s game against the Flying Squirrels at the Diamond, McBroom was 1 for 19. He finally broke through with two hits, including a solo home run, in the 3–2 loss to Richmond. That raised his average to a modest .130.
Every hitter at every level endures slumps. (Just ask Bryce Harper.) It can be toughest on “new meat,” as baseball players often call recent promotees. But even if his average is low, there’s little panic in McBroom—or his bosses.
“He’s gonna be just fine. He’s just getting his feet wet again,” said Stubby Clapp, New Hampshire’s hitting coach. “We’ve been talking about timing, and making sure he’s seeing pitches he wants to hit. He takes good swings, he’s got good balance, he’s a strong kid and he’s got good composure. ... If I’m a betting man, I’d say the odds are in his favor.”
McBroom, 24, certainly hopes so. He’s steadily produced and risen through the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization since they drafted him in the 15th round out of West Virginia in 2014. He hit .297 with 11 home runs in 70 games for Vancouver in 2014, then was named Most Valuable Player of Class-A Midwest League in 2015, batting .315 with 12 homers and 90 RBIs.
He was enjoying another solid year (.262, 14 homers, 54 RBIs) at Dunedin (Fla.) of the advanced Class-A Florida State League. Then first baseman Rowdy Tellez, the Blue Jays’ No. 2 overall prospect according to some scouts, injured his hand in a collision during New Hampshire’s July 18 game against Reading. McBroom also plays first, so the Blue Jays promoted him.
McBroom said he wasn’t expecting the call, but “I was pretty excited. It’s something I’ve worked toward my whole life.”
The less thrilling part has been dealing with more mature, precise pitchers who don’t make many mistakes. The biggest jump in baseball for a prospect is from Class-A to Double-A, and McBroom’s results so far have proven that.
The biggest difference so far, McBroom said, is that “the arms out of the bullpen are better. They have more command of their pitches. They definitely know how to pitch. You’re definitely not going to get a fastball belt-high every single time. ... It’s part of the game. It’s all about adjustments. You’re going to struggle at times. It didn’t start out how I wanted it to, but I’ve stayed with my routine.”
Or, as Clapp put it: “When a pitcher can throw a second pitch for strikes, that means the hitter had better be looking for it. If not, that’s when there’s doubt, and you’re in trouble. But he’s a good kid, and a hard worker.”
McBroom finally ended his 0-for-14 slide with his first Double-A hit, a fifth-inning single against Harrisburg Tuesday. That removed from his back the monkey that was threatening to reach King Kong proportions, but it didn’t exactly clarify his future.
Tellez returned from the disabled list Thursday to start at first against Richmond. He’s three years younger than McBroom (who’s also rated among Toronto’s top 30 prospects), so the Blue Jays want him to play every day when healthy.
McBroom might return to Dunedin soon, or he may stay with the Fisher Cats for the rest of the season. His status also could be affected by Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. The Blue Jays might trade away prospects for a veteran to improve the parent club’s playoff chances.
It’s all pretty complicated, and McBroom hopes to keep things as simple as possible. On the field, he’s all business, but he said he doesn’t listen to trade rumors or even think about baseball when he’s off duty,
It’s worked for him at every stop so far, and he’s hoping that will continue—despite the discouraging early returns.
He does have an advocate in Clapp, who once played for Potomac when it was an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Whether Ryan goes down, he has no control over that,” Clapp said.” He’s getting his shot, and he’s gonna be just fine. I don’t know what the [Blue Jays] have planned, but there’s plenty of playing time available. We have a DH, so there are some at-bats there.
“Everybody’s penciled in at this level; nothing is etched in stone.”