Royals fans aren’t exactly getting swept up in a wave of euphoria with the team’s newest acquisition. Ryan McBroom — obtained from the Yankees over the weekend in exchange for cash considerations — is a 27-year-old outfielder/first baseman without a big-league resume. Nowhere to be found on top prospect lists, he wasn’t even on New York’s 40-man roster (which is why this deal was possible a month after the MLB trade deadline).
That doesn’t mean that Kansas City didn’t get a player capable of producing at the highest level. Named last week to the International League’s Postseason All-Star Team, McBroom slashed an impressive .315/.402/.574 with 26 home runs in 482 plate appearances with the Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. His .976 OPS was tops in the circuit.
While he didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, the University of West Virginia product clearly turned a corner in this, his sixth professional season. Coming into the current campaign, he profiled more as an organizational guy — a Quad-A type — than a true prospect. Poor walk and strikeout rates stood out among the negatives.
Recently, I asked the suddenly productive right-handed hitter about his breakthrough.
“My entire career — my entire life — I’ve kind of been a late-bloomer,” McBroom told me late last week. “I think it all comes down to figuring out who I am, and what I have to do to be successful. High school, college, and now professionally, it’s just taken me a little longer to figure out what I need to do to become the player I need to be.”
According to the former Blue Jays farmhand — Toronto drafted McBroom 444th overall in 2014, then traded him to New York for Rob Refsnyder three years later — what he needed to do was relax. Rather than stressing the little things and “constantly searching for something different,” he’s now simply trusting his talent. In McBroom’s mind, his biggest adjustments haven’t been physical in nature.
Which doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a meaningful mechanical change. On the advice of RailRiders hitting coach Phil Plantier, he now keeps both hands on the bat in his followthrough.
“I actually started doing that last year,” McBroom explained. “I had a tendency to cut myself off and not really get through that outside pitch, and one day he was like, ‘I’ll give you ten bucks’ — something like that — ‘if you keep two hands on the bat in your next at-bat.’ Sure enough, I did… and hit a line drive up the middle. I was like, ‘Wow, that really felt good.’ It kept my body in a good position the entire time, and ever since then it’s worked for me.”
But again, he feels his biggest strides have come between the ears. And not only has McBroom learned to relax, he’s become more disciplined at the plate. “Hitting is a mentality,” he told me. “Since I’ve kind of put things together, my mindset is to stay behind the baseball in the middle of the field. That’s my approach now.”
The aforementioned issue with walks and strikeouts has largely disappeared. McBroom has 58 walks this year to go with 100 strikeouts. Last year those numbers were 32 and 133.
Why would a team with deep pockets trade away a rapidly improving Triple-A player in exchange for cash considerations? The reason is actually straightforward. McBroom is Rule-5 eligible this winter, and given their depth, the Yankees were unlikely to be adding him to the 40-man roster. The Royals — assuming McBroom impresses in September — won’t have trouble finding room on their own.
His handedness merits mention. As did Rickey Henderson, Ryan Ludwick, and Cody Ross — plus a smattering of others — McBroom is a lefty thrower who swings from the right side. He’s not entirely sure how that came to be.
“Growing up, nobody told me I should try to hit lefty, switch-hit, or whatever,” recalled McBroom. “It was just, ‘Go out and play the game, and have fun.’”
All these years later, those words could be used to describe the mental adjustment that has helped jumpstart his career. Elaborating on his earlier thoughts, the personable slugger shared the following: “I don’t like a hard focus on everything I do. I like to play loose, keep the clubhouse loose, and truly enjoy the game of baseball. As much as anything, that’s what I’ve figured out since getting into pro ball.”
And now he’s in the big leagues — the Royals have added him to their active roster for September — albeit not with the team he expected, or at least hoped, that would happen with. When we talked in Pawtucket, I asked McBroom if a possible call-up was on his mind.
“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it,” he admitted. “It’s the same for every player in Triple-A: We all think about that. We think about achieving that goal, achieving that dream. I’d love to be there helping a team compete for a championship.”
He won’t be doing the latter this month — the rebuilding Royals are 39 games under .500 — but he will be living the dream. Having cleaned up his mental approach and put together a surprisingly stellar Triple-A season, McBroom has beaten the odds and made it to the big leagues. Not only that, he’s picked up where he left off. McBroom debuted last night and promptly stroked a single his first time up. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk as Kansas City squeaked past Detroit by a count of 6-5.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.