Johnson hopes for bounceback season
DANVILLE, Va.--Cody Johnson grew up in north Florida dreaming of playing for his favorite team, the Atlanta Braves. Then the Braves drafted him in the first round of the 2006 draft, making the dream possible.
Johnson's road to fulfilling his dream started with a nightmarish pro debut, however. He woke up from his dream in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, hitting a weak .184 in his pro debut, dealing with a groin injury eight games into the season and finding it a challenge to play in the vacuum that is the GCL, with no fans and the monotony of a complex league lifestyle.
“Last summer really was a tremendous learning experience for me because it showed me what I have to do everyday to be able to go out on the field and perform at the highest level," said Johnson, who has earned a promotion in 2007 to Danville of the Rookie-level Appalachian League. "I feel that so far this year I have done that.”
So far, so good. With fans in the stands and more confidence, Johnson was one of the Appy League's top hitters in the first month of the season, posting .345/.410/.673 numbers with four home runs in 55 at-bats. He ranked second in home runs and third in slugging through his first month in the league and had just 12 strikeouts, after fanning 49 times in 114 at-bats in the GCL a year ago.Different Time, Different Player
Yes, a year ago . . . when nothing quite went right for Johnson.
Once arriving in Orlando after signing for a $1.375 million bonus, Johnson moved from first base to left field, and he pulled his groin just eight games into the summer. Johnson spent the next three weeks rehabbing and resting his groin and was unable to touch a ball or bat during that time. Once he came back from his injury, Johnson felt like he was behind schedule and pressed to get back on track.
“It was frustrating because I was hitting .308 before I pulled my groin and I was just getting a feeling for the wood bat," he said. "That one setback really hurt me for the rest of the summer."
Looking back at it now, Johnson said that getting hurt last year was the probably the best thing that could have happened to him, as it made him realize how much work he had to do to get on the field and produce every day.
“This was really the first time that Cody had to play through adversity in his young baseball career and he has really responded well to it this summer,” scouting Director Roy Clark said. “The minor leagues are great learning experiences for things like this and Cody is playing like we knew he could. He is hitting for a high average and has shown that he can drive the ball out of the park."
Johnson said one of the best parts of the 2007 season has been having fans at the ballpark; Danville's Dan Daniel Memorial Park was averaging 1,251 fans a night. The overall feel of the Appy League compared to the game-to-game, daylight GCL schedule has helped him be more productive. He called the GCL the hardest place that he will ever play due to the long days of being out at the field or complex and living out of a hotel room.
“Most of our games started at noon so we had to wake up by 7 a.m. and had to be dressed and ready to hit and take infield by 8:15 a.m," he said. “There really isn’t anybody that cares about what you’re doing out their on the field besides your coaches and other people in the Braves organization, so you really have to motivate yourself and know what you have to do to play your best everyday.
“There are a lot of great hitters that go down to the GCL and really struggle with their game because of not being used to the daily grind on your body and being out there day from morning till late afternoon is rough. So playing for the Danville Braves in the Appalachian League is a night-and-day difference."Attention Getter
Johnson is back to enjoying every minute of playing baseball as he did during his final two years of high school. He really started to catch scouts’ eyes during the 2005 summer showcase/tournament circuit heading into his senior year at Mosley High School.
“I had a real good summer up in East Cobb and I carried that into my final year of high school," said Johnson, who hit 15 home runs as a senior. “I really enjoyed my senior year of high school and it was real fun to play in front of all the major league scouts and college coaches."
The summer before his senior year, Johnson played in the highly competitive East Cobb League and went on to hit .493 with 22 home runs, using wood bats for much of the summer. Johnson played well enough on the summer showcase circuit to be invited to the Annual Aflac All-American game. In the Aflac All-American game, Johnson admits that his nerves got the better of him as he went 0-for-5 against the nation’s top high school pitchers. “That was the first time that I had played in front of a national audience and it was just one of those days where everything went wrong for me,” he said.
This summer, Johnson has tried hard to further develop his fielding in addition to reestablishing his bat as his best tool. A prep first baseman, Johnson said he was still learning how to run routes and generally is trying to gain a feel for left field.
His work ethic and talent have started him back on the road toward his childhood dream, and he hopes to take another step next season at low Class A Rome, in suburban Atlanta. After his 2006 struggles, Johnson sounds determined to keep his positive momentum in 2007 going.
“I knew after hitting .184 last summer that I needed to prove to people why I was selected in the first round of the draft and to play like it,” he said. “I know that if I go out there and put in the extra time and hard work that I can be successful at every level."NEW YORK (PENN) STATE OF MIND
• The Lowell Spinners have gotten it done at the plate this season, leading the New York Penn League with a .282 batting average and .363 on-base percentage. What has been most impressive is that the Spinners' offense is coming from prospects rather than older minor leaguers simply dominating a low minor league level. Catcher Ty Weeden (.351/.403/.491), shortstop Yamaico Navarro (.338/.367/.432) and center fielder Ryan Kalish (.282/.393/.338 with 12 steals and one caught stealing) are each 19 years old. Outfielders Rafael Cabreja (.281/.429/.469) and Carlos Fernandez-Oliva (.311/.346/.419) are both 20. Jorge Jimenez, 22, has also hit well for the Spinners with a .344/.423/.547 line.
• Drew Naylor has perhaps had the best season thus far among NYP pitchers. The 6-foot-4 Williamsport righthander was leading the league with 32 strikeouts in 29 innings, walking just three en route to a miniscule 0.62 ERA. Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, the 21-year-old Naylor signed with the Phillies in 2004, but did not play until last season in the Gulf Coast League. Naylor's repertoire includes a heavy low-90s fastball, a curveball and an advanced changeup.NORTH BY NORTHWEST
• A supplemental first-round pick of the Mariners, Everett third baseman Matt Mangini was off to a hot start for his new organization. In 73 plate appearance, Mangini is hitting .344/.452/.508. After leading the Cape Cod League with a .310 batting average in 2006, Mangini transferred from North Carolina State to Oklahoma State. Mangini's selectively aggressive approach has been key for him in his professional debut, as he had walked in 15 percent of his plate appearances.APPALACHIAN TRAILS
• Bristol's Jose Martinez, an 18-year-old Venezuelan corner outfielder, had five three-hit games in the first 20 White Sox games. Though he is walking less frequently and strike out more often than he did last season in the Venezuelan League, his average, on-base and slugging percentage--.363/.395/.538--are all up from a year ago.PIONEER SPIRIT
• White Sox first-rounder Aaron Poreda had pitched in two games for Great Falls and looked strong in both outings. Poreda allowed one earned run in four innings in his debut, striking out five without surrendering a walk. In his second start, Poreda struck out five and walked one in five innings of work, allowing one earned run. Though Poreda can touch 97 mph with his fastball, he will have to develop a better breaking ball and refine his changeup to succeed at higher levels. COMPLEX ISSUES
• Twins' first rounder Ben Revere was the quickest first round pick to sign, and is already hitting well in his professional debut. Playing centerfield for the Gulf Coast League Twins, Revere was hitting .310/.359/.466 in 63 plate appearances. Revere's outstanding speed has been on display, as four of his five extra-base hits have been triples. Revere has five steals and has been caught twice.--Notes compiled by Ben Badler