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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Texas recruit Johnson eyes draft

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – University of Texas head baseball coach Augie Garrido and recruiting coordinator Tommy Harmon signed 13 outstanding prospects to constitute the Longhorns’ 2012 recruiting class. Of those 13, Perfect Game ranks eight of them in the top 102 in the high school graduating class of 2012.

Major League Baseball scouts are certainly aware of outfielders Courtney Hawkins (No. 5 ranked) and Nick Williams (No. 25); shortstop C.J. Hinojosa (No. 30); catcher Wyatt Mathisen (No. 51); right-hander Tyler Gonzales (No. 60); catcher Steve Bean (No. 66) and first baseman Austin Dean (No. 94).

It’s possible, of course, that none of those players will arrive on UT’s Austin campus in the fall. Hawkins, Williams, Mathisen, Bean and Gonzales are projected to be selected in the first three rounds of the upcoming MLB amateur draft, and Hinojosa and Dean should go sometime in the first 10 rounds. It’s unlikely all will sign professionally, but it could be that the Texas coaches will ultimately view prospect No. 102 as their prize catch in the 2012 recruiting class.

Outfielder Ben Johnson, a speedy 6-foot-1, 185-pounder from Austin who is set to graduate this spring from Westwood High School in nearby Round Rock, is the prospect PG has ranked 102nd in the nation. He was at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Monday (May 14) for the 2012 PG Pre-Draft Showcase, performing in front of nearly 50 scouts and hoping to convince them they should take a chance on him in June’s amateur draft.

Johnson’s high school team at Westwood didn’t qualify for the Texas state playoffs this spring, so he hadn’t played in a competitive game situation since April 21.

“I just wanted to get a little more exposure up here for draft purposes,” Johnson said Monday from sun-soaked PG Field. “I wanted to come out here and get a game in and get in some work and show some people what I can do.”

He performed well in the morning workout session, turning in the third best 60-yard dash time of 6.46 seconds. That trailed only the near-record-setting efforts of Richmond Hills, N.Y., outfielder Edgar Lebron (6.37) and Windsor Heights, Iowa, outfielder Zach Coppola (6.38). The event record of 6.33 was set by D.J Jones in 2007.

He threw 90 mph from the outfield – tied for the event’s sixth best effort – and after his batting practice session a PG scout noted that Johnson “impressed in BP as the ball comes off his barrel well and he showed interesting power potential.”

That’s exactly what Johnson was hoping to show the scouts when he and his parents, Corry and Tammy, decided to make the trip to eastern Iowa for the one-day showcase.

“Ben has a goal of playing professionally … and we wanted him to have the opportunity to come to Perfect Game and compete with some of the other top high school players and see how it all comes out,” his father, Corry, said. “Perfect Game has been a great experience for Ben; we went to the National Showcase last summer in Fort Myers and it was a great experience.”

Indeed, last year’s PG National Showcase at City of Palms Park was Johnson’s only PG experience before Monday’s Pre-Draft Showcase. He spent his four years at Westwood High excelling in both baseball and football and was actually a highly sought-after quarterback recruit. During his senior football season in 2011, Johnson passed for 1,437 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,212 yards and 17 TDs in the Warriors 10-2 season.

Johnson’s older brother, Will, was also a standout baseball and football player at Westwood High and is now a reserve sophomore outfielder at Vanderbilt University.

The football coaches at Texas offered Johnson preferred walk-on status to that program with the possibility of gaining a full scholarship in the future. Rice University in Houston offered him a full football scholarship, Texas Christian University offered him for baseball and Texas State was willing to give him the opportunity to play both.

Johnson declined those offers in favor of playing baseball at Texas.

“It’ll be tough and I’m going to miss it because I love football to death, but I just think my future is in baseball and I’m excited to continue that,” Johnson said. “(Texas is) the best college baseball program you can play for in the nation. It’s the perfect fit for me from an academic standpoint and an athletic standpoint; being at home also helped but it was really just a great fit.”

Corry Johnson said it was a decision his son put a lot of thought into.

“He’s always loved both sports, but I think in the end he felt in his heart that baseball was the best fit for him over the long run, and I think it’s played out that way,” Corry said Monday. “He loved playing both sports in high school but over the long term baseball is the way to go for him.”

Perfect Game Managing Editor of College Baseball, Kendall Rogers, wrote the following about Johnson while ranking the Longhorns’ 2012 recruiting class the fifth best in the nation:

“Johnson has starred as a baseball and football player in high school, putting on display his impressive athletic ability. He’s considered a big-time competitor with a live body and solid throwing arm.”

Johnson felt it was important to display that athletic ability in front of the pro scouts one more time before the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft begins June 4. The PG Pre-Draft provided that final opportunity.

“Perfect Game is the best of the best and if you can get your name out here they’re going to spread you name around all over from college to pros,” Johnson said.

“We’re very lucky and very blessed, and he feels very blessed as well,” Corry Johnson said. “We appreciated the invitation and it’s a great opportunity for him to showcase his capabilities in front of all these professional scouts; it’s a great chance for him to show what he can do.”

At this point in time, Johnson is just hoping to hear his name called along with his slightly more highly regarded possible future Longhorns teammates.

“I’m obviously committed to the University of Texas right now but if I get the opportunity to play (professional) baseball and if it’s the right choice for my family and I, then we’ll take a look at it. I’m really excited to see what happens,” he said. “Whatever happens, it’s out of my control and we’ve always talked about it being in God’s hands. Whatever happens, I’m going to make the most of it and try to do my best.”

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