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Familiarity Brings Johnson To Cubs

June 7, 2004
By Jeff Vorva

CHICAGO--Life is good for Grant Johnson.

The Notre Dame righthander was picked in the second round by the Cubs and could begin his professional career this summer.

Or he could go back to school and finish up his business degree, and use one of his two remaining years of eligibility to work on improving his stock in next year's draft.

"I have options," said the 21-year-old Illinois native, who missed the 2003 season after having shoulder surgery and is a draft-eligible sophomore. "I would like to sign but there's no harm in going back. It's not like I'm forced. I don't have to sign. But right now, I'm ecstatic the Cubs picked me."

The Cubs did not have a first-round pick. They lost the selection to the Twins when they signed free agent reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Johnson was the 66th pick overall.

At Notre Dame this season, Johnson went 6-0, 1.87. He walked 26 and struck out 51 in 58 innings of work. As a freshman, he went 9-5, 3.46 and had a mid-90s fastball and a top slider. He helped lead Notre Dame to the College World Series in 2002.

He opened this season limited in throwing his slider 10 or fewer times per game but was still able to dominate late in the campaign. He is also known to show his emotion on the mound. But Johnson said he used that to help his pitching.

"I think bring a lot of life on the mound," Johnson said, "I'm very much into the game. Whenever I'm hyped up, I focus a lot better. It hasn't hurt me thus far and I don't see it hurting me in the future."

Johnson graduated from Lyons Township High in Chicago's western suburbs and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois in 2001. He won 29 games on the high school level and notched 291 strikeouts, 31 complete games and owned a career 1.53 ERA.

"We're thrilled to have Grant--we've always considered him to be a quality pitcher," Cubs scouting director John Stockstill said. "It seemed like every time I saw him, he got stronger and stronger. He works with a fastball and slider. He has good location in the strike zone. He's very aggressive and he's got great makeup."

The Cubs' ties to Johnson go beyond having seen him in high school. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry played for Demie Mainieri at Miami-Dade North CC, and Paul Mainieri (Demie's son) is Notre Dame's coach. Hendry, the former coach at Creighton, and the Mainieri family remain very close.

CUBBYHOLES

The Cubs drafted California prep catcher Mark Reed in the third round. Reed, out of Bonita High in La Verne, Calif., is the younger brother of White Sox minor league outfielder Jeremy Reed.

The Cubs' sixth-round pick, lefthander Tim Layden, was Duke's top hitter the last three seasons, but the Cubs and most other pro clubs liked him better on the mound. Layden has a violent delivery, but he threw a no-hitter this season against Old Dominion and at times has dominating stuff. He features a fastball that has reached 92 mph and a power slider in the 83-86 mph range. Most scouts see him reaching the majors as a reliever.

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