Josh Anthony is set to be one of Auburn’s senior leaders for the upcoming 2018 baseball season, but less than eight months before he took control of the hot corner at Plainsman Park, the Tigers’ starting third baseman told the coaching staff he would never play a game for Auburn.
The junior college product was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 16th round of the 2016 MLB Draft and was torn between coming to the school he had grown up loving or chasing his dream of playing professional baseball.
“I knew that regardless of what happened, I would be in the best possible place I could be in life,” Anthony said.
At one point, Anthony decided to accept his offer from the Braves, but he was soon back on a path to Auburn when the team could no longer honor the original signing bonus they had offered him.
“I didn’t really understand the benefits I would have coming to Auburn until I got here,” Anthony said. “When the Auburn Family embraced me the way they did, I feel like coming here was the ultimate decision. It was the best decision I could possibly have made.”
Before joining the Tigers for their 2017 campaign, Anthony put up video game numbers in two seasons at Western Oklahoma State junior college. He finished his sophomore season with a .444 batting average, 25 home runs, 84 RBI and 49 steals.
The Columbus, Georgia, native grew up under an hour away from The Plains, but he went unnoticed by most and received no Division I offers out of Hardaway High School.
“I chose to go to Western Oklahoma State because I just didn’t know who I was as a person at the time,” Anthony said. “I wanted to get away so I could find myself. That doesn’t work out for everybody, but that just so happened to work out for me. The success I had in Oklahoma blessed me with the opportunity to come back home and play in my backyard, so to speak.”
Auburn head coach Butch Thompson and his staff were expecting Anthony to be a solid addition to their lineup after dominating junior college pitching, but his role in the field was unclear upon arrival.
After spending time at multiple positions at Western Oklahoma State, including catcher, Anthony said Auburn was not fully aware of the ability he had with his glove at third base.
“I feel like it was overlooked a little bit because in junior college I bounced around from position to position,” Anthony said. “Auburn didn’t really know I could play third base. When I came in and was at third base, they were like ‘oh, he can play third base’. Yes, I can.”
Anthony made a collection of great defensive plays and only recorded nine errors while starting at third base in 62 of the Tigers’ 63 games a season ago.
As a newcomer, Anthony was able to assume the part of an everyday third baseman in the SEC immediately, but the adjustment he had to make at the plate against much stiffer competition than he had been accustomed to did not come quite as easily.
However, in a home series against Arkansas in late April, it all came together for him. He broke out, going 9-for-12 and hitting his first home run of the season to help him earn SEC Player of the Week honors.
“I knew the game was going to speed up,” Anthony said. “Everybody here was going to be a lot bigger, stronger, faster. I knew that, but I didn’t know what to expect. I was kind of trying to figure out things as the season went on, and some things worked more than others. The biggest thing for me going into that Arkansas series was the amount of work I put it prior to that series. Really getting a feel for my swing, and that translated during that series.”
Anthony finished the 2017 season with adequate numbers, batting .266 and finishing second on the team in both RBI (39) and doubles (14), but unlike the year before, he was not selected in the MLB Draft.
“I didn’t expect to get drafted, and I didn’t expect not to come back to school either,” Anthony said. “Baseball has a funny way of working itself out, so I tend to not worry about that stuff. What I’ve been doing for the past two years is building my relationship with God. I play through him, and whatever happens is part of his plan. Whatever happens, I’m at peace with.”
For Anthony, the 2018 season will not be about proving anything or achieving any statistical goals, it will be about getting a chance to play his final season of collegiate baseball at the highest level without any regrets.
“I just want to leave everything on the line,” Anthony said. “Go out there and do your thing, Josh. That’s it.”
Auburn will open its 2018 season on Friday, Feb. 16 against Longwood at Plainsman Park.