Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Broadway, Larry Rose

Bill Ladson's latest mailbag brought up the possibility of Larry Broadway taking over first base for Nick Johnson in 2007. Johnson will be a free agent at the end of the season, and will present a difficult choice for the Nationals.

When healthy, Nick Johnson is an elite first baseman. At the midpoint of the season, a decent case could have been made that he should have been an All-Star. But then he broke. Again. Is it really smart of a team to invest $5 million or more of its money on a player who can't stay on the field for more than 120 games?

The answer to that question will depend a lot on Larry Broadway's performance this season. He's been tabbed by Ladson and others as the "first baseman of the future", but is it deserved? Or is that a label that's foisted upon him because the system is hurting for upper level prospects?

Broadway is a left-handed first baseman, whom the Nationals drafted out of Duke in the 3rd round of the 2002 draft.

He signed quickly and got into some late-season games with the Gulf Coast Expos and the Vermont Expos. In Vermont, he demonstrated decent contact, hitting .315, and rapped out four home runs in 127 at bats -- not a bad start for someone just out of college.

But he made a name for himself in 2003. He split time in double-A and triple-A mashing 20 home runs and 35 doubles -- tremendous power for a young player. His eye, while not tremendous, earned him 69 walks in just 129 games. He struggled a bit in Brevard County, but excelled at double-A Harrisburg, hitting .321/ .371/ .551 as a 22-year old.

To build on his success, he started out in Harrisburg in 2004. Injuries and a stretch of ineffectiveness left him there. Broadway wrenched his back in the opening month of the season, leading him to hit just .120 through his first 20 games, and sapping his power. Although his numbers improved as he got healthy, he still hit just .270/ .362/ .451, a disappointment considering where he had finished off the year before. He did finish the season with an impressive 22 home runs, and continued to demonstrate a decent batting eye. Just with the back injury, some of the production wasn't there.

2005 was an important year for Broadway. He needed to show that 04's disappointment was just the lingering effects of his back problem. The Nationals were optimistic and started him out at triple-A. It didn't go well. In 57 ABs, he didn't hit for power or average.

Then came the tarp. He tore a ligament in his knee when he collided with a tarp in April. The injury set him back about a month. On rehab, he tore through the Gulf Coast League, as you'd expect a moderately advanced 24-year old to do. Then he returned to Harrisburg, and put up similar numbers to what he hit in 2004.

Whether it's the lingering effects of his injuries, or something else, he lost some of the batting stroke he had. His average fell to .269. But at the same time his power spiked. Although he hit only 12 home runs, those came in just 186 ABs. When added to the 14 doubles he churned out, it produced a pretty healthy .538 slugging average, which is in line with the best seasons of his minor league career. In fact, the isolated power (Slugging - Average) was the highest of his career. Despite his low average, he was doing more with each hit than he had done before.

But this was also his third straight year of hitting double-A pitching. You'd expect him to have that kind of success (and maybe truthfully you'd actually expect him to have even more.)

2006 is going to be a make or break year for Broadway. He'll be 25, and has yet to establish himself in the upper levels of pro baseball. He needs to show that his past injury problems were the result of his stagnation. He hasn't really shown improvement since his breakout 2003.

He has some pretty big advances he's going to need to make if he is going to take over for Nick Johnson.
The potential is certainly there. He's got power, and he has a decent eye. And by all accounts he's a pretty solid defensive player. But I just don't yet see the batting line of a regular pennant-quality first baseman. He could be a decent stop-gap solution for a year or two, or a fine bench player. But unless he puts it together and actually makes advances in a more advanced league he didn't have success with the first time around, it's going to be a tough path.

I'll certainly be pulling for him. If he succeeds, there'll be less pressure to re-sign Nick Johnson. If he fails, then the Nationals will be faced with some difficult questions next off-season.

  • Broadway's Stats

  • Broadway's journal of his 02-03 seasons.