OGDEN — Josh Broughton is competing in professional baseball for the first time since 2019 and is playing positions that put him in the batter's box regularly for the first time since college.

He got a call to join the Ogden Raptors about a week before the season and jumped headfirst into playing everyday baseball after nearly two years off.

"I’m just kind of a utility guy, play all the outfield positions, play some third, and just hoping my bat plays," he said. "I just love being out there so wherever I am, I’m happy with it. An opportunity is an opportunity."

Josh Broughton mug shot Ogden Raptors 2021

Broughton

You could say his bat plays.

When Broughton ripped a triple to the centerfield wall in the ninth inning of the Raptors’ game against Missoula on Wednesday, it raised his season batting average to .484, which made him the Pioneer League batting average leader among qualified players through 22 games.

When he took the field again Thursday at Lindquist Field, he was Ogden’s starting pitcher.

Broughton has emerged as one of the many baseball gems the Raptors seem to have unearthed in their first season as an independent club since 1995.

All the more impressive since he's changed roles more than he has uniforms.

The 6-foot-3, wiry athlete from Jacksonville, Florida, played outfield in 2018 at Elon College. The next year at Valdosta State, he played mostly third base while moonlighting as a closing pitcher.

Though he hit .371 with 36 RBIs in 43 games as a senior, and only threw 7 2/3 innings in those final two college seasons, the Kansas City Royals drafted Broughton as a pitcher in the 25th round.

At Valdosta State, he allowed three hits and two runs in five innings with an average-against of .176. In 2019, he logged just 5 2/3 innings with Kansas City's Arizona League rookie club with lesser results.

Playing almost every day in the field, Broughton had pitched sparingly entering last week, throwing 3 2/3 innings for the Raptors.

That made it all the more surprising when, on June 13, he entered a game in Colorado Springs in the sixth inning with the Raptors leading the Rocky Mountain Vibes 8-0 and threw four nearly flawless innings. He allowed zero hits and faced one over the minimum, issuing one walk, for a four-inning save.

"I’ve actually never done that," Broughton said of throwing into a fourth inning. "I actually felt pretty good out there throwing four. I felt like my arm had a lot in the tank, especially not being in shape as much as I want to be yet."

He estimates he threw about 13 total innings in high school.

As for his claim of not being in the shape he wants, Broughton was released by the Royals late in 2020, prior to spring training for the 2021 season. He had already returned to Jacksonville due to the pandemic and found a way to make money by working as an instructor/coach at a baseball training facility.

It took him about a day to decide on the offer to play for the Raptors, which came by a referral from Ogden pitcher and fellow Jaxson Mark Mixon, and he joined the team a couple games into the season.

"I only hit like twice in two years," Broughton said. "I hit two times before I got here, off a machine with a metal bat, so it was crazy. But I got in the box and felt like I never left."

In 16 non-pitching games entering Thursday, Broughton is hitting .484 with three homers, three doubles, two triples and 25 runs batted in. He's struck out just five times in 67 plate appearances in games where he plays mostly in the outfield, with a couple starts at third base. One of his home runs was the inside-the-park variety.

"When I got drafted by the Royals as a pitcher, it hurt a little bit because I dropped something I did my whole life. I was grateful for the opportunity, but when I got that bat back in my hands it just felt natural," he said. "It was easy to get back into the swing of things because of my love for the game."

Though Broughton's two-way stats have varied as the way he was used in games differed, he was an easy referral from Mixon to help Ogden fill out the roster.

"Mark explained to me his multifaceted abilities and that’s what enamored me because with 25 guys, you need to have some who can do different things," Ogden manager Dean Stiles said. "He’s shown he can hit, he can run, he can pitch, he can field. He’s a phenomenal athlete."

Stiles said Broughton's speed is also a weapon that puts pressure on defenses once they see how close he can make plays on the base paths.

Entering Thursday's start on the mound, the first of his career, Broughton had allowed six earned runs in 7 2/3 innings, but all six of those came in one, one-inning appearance. He threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings outside of that.

Broughton needed just 32 pitches to get through three innings of perfect pitching in his start Thursday. That meant through his last seven innings on the mound, he'd allowed zero hits and just one baserunner.

It came apart in the fourth inning Thursday when Missoula broke through with three hits. After recording a strikeout, Ogden opted to intentionally walk left-handed batter Nick Gatewood against the righty Broughton to load the bases, seemingly trying to get Broughton through four complete innings.

It was a one-out gamble in a 1-0 game and it backfired, because Broughton hit the next batter with his first pitch, pushing across a run.

The hot start and rough fourth highlighted Broughton's continued development on the mound. After all, he'd never thrown longer than three innings in a game in his life, and Thursday gave him consecutive appearances of doing so.

"He's everything we hoped for and more, and I think there’s more in there in terms of the pitching because we haven’t really tapped that much yet," Stiles said. "He’s trying to develop his pitch repertoire. Before, he was more of just a thrower ... I’d like to mold that a little better now and give him that opportunity, but he still has so much talent offensively that we can’t take him out of that either."

At the plate, his top single-game performance came June 5 against Grand Junction when he hit 4 for 4 with two homers and four RBIs.

Not bad for someone who was more focused on making ends meet than playing baseball one month ago.

"I’m just one of those guys, if you throw me out there and I’m playing basketball, I don’t even know how, but I’m going to go compete and make you beat me," Broughton said. "I’m a competitor and if somebody’s throwing something at me, I’m going to figure out a way to make something happen."

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3 and @WeberHQ.

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