Royals' 22nd-rounder Mitchell realizing dream

Southpaw overcame shoulder injury; aims to sign with KC

KANSAS CITY -- For four years, left-hander Josh Mitchell played with a torn left labrum he didn't know he had.

The injury, which he suffered playing football as a high school freshman, didn't affect him. But once he got to the University of Pittsburgh and used his left arm more than ever, Mitchell -- whom the Royals drafted on Wednesday in the 22nd round -- began to feel overwhelming soreness. There were days he couldn't lift his arm.

"I tried being the tough guy and hillbilly that I am," Mitchell said. "It really didn't work."

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In Mitchell's freshman year, an MRI revealed the torn labrum. He underwent surgery, then devoted himself to shoulder rehab that summer, sometimes attending rehab twice a day. He took a job in construction, too.

Mitchell is from Ridgway, Penn., a small town in the northern part of the state. It's the kind of town where everyone knows everyone, Mitchell said, and there are two summer job options: construction or factory work.

"I didn't want to be stuck in a factory," Mitchell said.

Mitchell doesn't want to be stuck at all. He put his body through "hell" to recover from the injury for two reasons: to resume his baseball career and, in turn, move out of Ridgway.

"Growing up here, you learn fast that some people don't leave," Mitchell said. "They never leave. There's something about Ridgway, even though everyone says they want to get out so bad, no matter what, they come crawling back.

"I love my family, I love this hometown, but I want to go out and make something for me."

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Mitchell, who majored in pre-law, returned from his injury four months earlier than expected, he said. Though he came back early, the velocity on his pitches didn't. For two seasons, Mitchell barely pitched, throwing a combined 33 1/3 innings with a 5.17 ERA. A professional career looked bleak.

Before his senior season, Mitchell's fastball velocity increased to the low 90s. He threw 70 1/3 innings and struck out 65 batters. But Mitchell also won one game -- the only one of his career -- and allowed 36 runs for a 4.61 ERA. Despite that, he was pleased with his performance. After all, this season led to him being drafted, something that likely wouldn't have happened otherwise.

"Josh was someone we targeted early today," Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg said. "He kind of snuck up the board for us as we proceeded through the day."

Wednesday night, Mitchell will leave Ridgway. He'll drive to Pittsburgh and fly to Arizona. Soon, he aims to sign a contract with the Royals.

"I get to say I'm a professional athlete," Mitchell said. "It's something I thought would never come."

Wilson Alexander is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.