Undrafted from Oakland University, Rays’ Mike Brosseau carves unlikely path to majors

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
The Tampa Bay Rays' Mike Brosseau, right, celebrates his walk-off single against the Tigers on Aug. 17. Brosseau played at Oakland University.

Reaching the big leagues is a long shot to begin with, and Mike Brosseau’s odds of making it weren’t all that much better than the rest of us after college.

Undrafted American players are few and far between in the majors, not to mention his alma mater’s nearly empty history of MLB pedigree.

But three years after being passed over 1,206 times by clubs in the 2016 draft out of Oakland University, and now two months into a magical start to his Tampa Bay Rays career, Brosseau continues to break down walls. 

His surreal rookie season had another highlight on Aug. 17, when his pinch-hit, walk-off blast to the right-center gap closed a 13-inning, 1-0 win against the Tigers.

“Probably after my debut, that’s probably my favorite part of the season so far,” Brosseau said. “It was especially cool because so many people reaching out to me after that game, obviously from the Oakland (University) area who are Tigers fans. It was cool to see all the outreach from people saying, ‘I’m mad the Tigers lost, but if it comes at the expense of you getting a base hit, then we’re cool with that.’”

Brosseau homered in his first home game, notched 15 hits and four home runs in his first 10 games, and enters Tuesday’s series at Houston with a respectable .282 batting average after hitting his sixth home run on Saturday. He's played six positions in 42 games for the Rays, including two relief pitching appearances in mop-up duty.

The Rays will enter September in a fierce battle for one of two American League wild-card spots. Entering Tuesday, a half-game separated Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Oakland for the two spots.

It’s perhaps fitting that Brosseau made his MLB debut in Oakland on June 23 against the A’s after starring four years for the Golden Grizzlies.

A shortstop in college, Brosseau was a two-time All-Horizon League player, leading the conference in on-base percentage (.456) and ranking second in home runs with 10 as a senior, while hitting .354.

After participating in a couple of pre-draft workouts, the Indiana native believed he would get a call late in the 40-round draft. The call never came, and after a Tampa Bay scout was the only one to call the following day offering a reported $1,000 signing bonus, Brosseau made the flight to Florida to start his unlikely pro career.

Brosseau grinded his way up the Tampa Bay ladder, hitting over .300 in his first three stops in the minors, winning the 2017 Midwest League batting title and even starring one winter in the Australian Baseball League.

A shortstop at Oakland University, Mike Brosseau was a two-time All-Horizon League player, leading the conference in on-base percentage (.456) and ranking second in home runs with 10 as a senior, while hitting .354.

"Having that undrafted title with me throughout my entire career definitely is a motivation factor, definitely kind of a chip on my shoulder," Brosseau said.

In big-league spring training and in Triple-A Durham this season, Brosseau impressed, hitting 15 home runs in 249 International League at-bats.

During a late-night bus ride from Rhode Island to Pennsylvania, Brosseau and the Bulls were notified by manager Brady Williams of his promotion.

Brosseau was off to the West coast, where he singled in his first major league at-bat.

“My first at-bat, walking up to the plate and hearing the announcer, ‘Now up to bat, making his major-league debut, Mike Brosseau.’ That was kind of a moment where, the previous 24-36 hours before that moment were just insane and hectic and it was kind of just all in anticipation for that moment,” he said. “Once that moment actually happened, I kind of dug into the box, I had to actually take a deep breath just take a mental picture of everything. But once you step back into the box, you try to lock back in. 

“I think that would probably be the most surreal, most memorable moment for sure.”

There, he became the second Oakland University player to make the bigs, joining Don Kirkwood, who made 120 pitching appearances over five seasons in the 1970s with the Angels, White Sox and Blue Jays.

A handful of Brosseau’s Oakland roommates and teammates flew from the Detroit area to the Bay Area for his debut, roaring with applause after the hit.

Oakland coach Colin Kaline never coached Brosseau, but got to know him during offseasons when he would visit and train with former teammates.

“One thing I noticed from him right away, just with his personality and the way he worked on the field and off the field, he just kind of had that ‘It’ factor,” said Kaline, grandson of Tigers legend Al Kaline and a former two-time Detroit draftee in 2007 and 2011.

“Coaches in our league, or coaches that had the opportunity to play against him when he was in college, one of the biggest compliments you can give a player is, ‘Man, I wish that guy was on my team.’

“That was just kind of the overlying theme with everyone you talked to.”

Brosseau added, about his OU lineage: "That’s a huge thing in my mind. I can kind of pave the way for future players for the program to make them realize that it is kind of possible to make it to the biggest stage from Oakland. It’s pretty cool when I talk about that fact. 

"I definitely carry that around with pride."

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.