MELBOURNE, Australia -- Like all prospects participating in the Australian Baseball League, Keon Broxton is trading his offseason for a little extra work. Unlike most, however, life without an offseason is nothing new to Broxton.
A baseball and football star at Lakeland Senior High School in Lakeland, Fla., the 6-foot-3, 195-pound outfielder is used to being busy year round, and he is used to being surrounded by great talent.
While in high school, Broxton played behind current Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale. On the gridiron, he played wide receiver for one of the most prestigious programs in the country.
The Lakeland Dreadnaughts lost just two football games with Broxton on board, winning their third consecutive Florida 5A state championship and second consecutive USA Today National Championship in the 2006 season, his junior year. Three of his high school teammates currently play in the NFL.
"We were unbelievable," he said of his high school football team, "I almost felt sorry for the teams we were playing against."
Upon graduation, the multi-talented Broxton had options. Selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 29th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, the tall, lean, dual threat had also committed to play college football at Florida Atlantic. Ultimately, however, he opted to take another path -- playing baseball at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Fla.
"In my mind, I wasn't ready to become a professional baseball player," he explained of his decision to decline the Phillies offer. "I declined my commitment to play football so that I could go to Santa Fe and play baseball for a year and really learn about the game. Until then I had always been a dual-sport athlete, but being able to go to college and just focus on one sport really helped me out a lot going into pro ball."
It also helped his Draft stock.
The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Broxton in the third round (95th overall) in the 2009 Draft, and the then-19-year-old headed to Missoula, Mont., to begin his professional career.
Over five Minor League seasons, Broxton has experienced the ups and downs you might expect from a young man suddenly changing his focus from two sports to one. In his career, Broxton has hit for a .247 average, launched 50 home runs and stolen 86 bases.
In 2010, he led all of Minor League Baseball with 19 triples. In 2011, he stole 33 bases. In 2012, he compiled a near 20-20 season, belting 19 long balls and swiping 21 bags while hitting .267 as a member of the Class A Advanced Visalia Rawhide.
This past season, playing at the Double-A level for the first time, Broxton struggled to find consistency at the plate. A weapon at all three outfield positions, he hit .231 in 101 games for the Mobile BayBears, adding eight home runs and 41 RBIs.
"I think in the second half of the season I started to play better, started to figure out more about my swing and my daily mental approach," he said. "It really started to pick up at the end of the season. That's why I wanted to keep playing, to keep that same feeling going on."
With so many possibilities for young players to get reps in the offseason, Broxton is happy to have landed in the ABL.
"I wanted to work on a lot of stuff coming off the season that I had. I was willing to go to instructs. I was willing to do anything, and then [D-backs director of player development] Mike Bell came up with the idea of going to Australia. I was a little shocked at first, but I'm so glad I came out here."
After a hot start to the season, Broxton was chosen to represent the World All-Star team in the ABL's midseason showcase. Following a rough patch in the middle of the season, the man Baseball America has three times labeled the "Best Athlete" in the D-backs farm system has found his stroke again.
Overall, Broxton is hitting .235 with a pair of home runs in 31 games this season, but he entered Wednesday having hit .333 over his past seven games. He leads the Blue Sox with 15 RBIs and has stolen eight bases in nine attempts. In the Blue Sox's most recent contest, Broxton delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th inning to pull his team into a three-way tie for the final playoff spot.
And with eight regular-season games remaining and the potential for playoffs, there is still work to be done.
"I'm working on being more of a contact hitter," he said. "Working on squaring balls up more often, on my two-strike approach, on my baserunning; working on getting my skills back to where they used to be, and continuing to work in the outfield. All around -- just getting better."
In the process, Broxton finds himself living in Sydney, the site of the MLB Opening Series between D-backs and Dodgers, as the lone ABL player in the Arizona organization.
"It's something I always keep in mind," he said. "I'm out here representing the Diamondbacks -- not only trying to get better -- and that definitely keeps me motivated and keeps me moving forward."
Asked whether he has any regrets about leaving football behind, Broxton paused under his power blue cap in the warm Australian sunshine.
"It was tough, it was really tough, giving up something you've been doing since you were 6 years old. It's tough to let that go, but I think I made the right decision. I'm happy with what I chose to do."
And now, heading into his sixth full season of Minor League Baseball, still a young man at 23, Broxton is hoping his decision to forgo an offseason to come to Australia will play off.
"I think, going into next season, I'll be healthy and fresh and ready to play," he said. "If anything, I think this is going to help me out because I'll already be at game speed and ready to go. I'm just going to carry over what I've been working on here into the next season."
Craig Durham is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less