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Starkville's Johnson swings big stick

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- R.J. Johnson''s tremendous baseball talent has been evident since the first day he suited up for the Starkville Yellow Jackets.  

 

He''s just now starting to put all the pieces together.  

 

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound shortstop/pitcher has ideal measurables that have drawn the attention of pro scouts, but it''s been his discipline at the plate that''s seen him get off to a blazing start for Starkville (5-1).  

 

Johnson hit three home runs in two games during the Jackets'' annual spring break tour of the Florida panhandle, giving him a career-high five for the season.  

 

The Starkville senior has been chosen The Commercial Dispatch Prep Player of the Week ahead of today''s district game at Columbus. 

 

Starkville coach Danny Carlisle said there hasn''t been much different about Johnson''s mechanics, but rather his focus at the plate and the patience he''s shown waiting for the perfect pitch to hit.  

 

It''s led to a current .467 batting average and a team-high 14 RBIs. 

 

"Last year, he had the mentality where there''d be runners at second and third and he was satisfied to take a walk," Carlisle said of Johnson. "I had to tell him, ''We don''t have you in there to take a walk so step in there and drive some runs in.'' You''re supposed to produce and I think being a senior now he''s started to realize that''s what we''ve hounded him about as a sophomore -- swing the bat at quality pitches -- and you can drive the ball out of the yard." 

 

Johnson did just that in Florida recording a pair of homers in a 6-5 loss to Navarre and one in the Jackets'' 16-11 win against Pine Forest for a total of six RBIs. 

 

"I''m more focused and I''m trying to be more aggressive on that first pitch," Johnson said. "Last year was ridiculous and there was a lot of stuff going on, but this being our last year I know it''s now or never. I try to get my hits whenever I can." 

 

The sense or urgency is there for Johnson, who admits his recruitment by college and pro scouts has added to his exigency to become a better hitter.  

 

And with the graduation of .300-plus hitters Jayson Keel and Daniel Forde, Johnson knew more would be expected of him. 

 

"I feel like I had to pick up some of the pieces they left, but we''ve got seven returning starters so I feel like me having confidence is just a part of everybody having confidence," Johnson said. "We push each other and there are talented guys on our team, so we feel like shouldn''t anybody stop us but ourselves." 

 

Johnson also sports a 2-1 record and 4.47 ERA on the mound. He''s struck out 26 of the 76 batters he''s faced.  

 

Johnson said his skills on the mound have improved more than his offense and it''s his versatility that scouts admire. 

 

Carlisle described Johnson as a "needs" player who can fill a variety of roles and provide late-inning relief on the mound without having to lose a hitter. 

 

But the area Carlisle sees as Johnson''s strength is his plate presence. 

 

"He hit one down there at Escambia that probably went 400 feet," Carlisle said. "Me and (Escambia) coach (Roger) Mayo, who I''ve been good friends with for the last 25 years, were talking and he said you look at R.J.''s build and the way he extends the bat and it''s just like Darryl Strawberry. If you look at him and the way he carries himself, it''s a mirror image." 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment shook commented at 3/24/2010 1:36:00 AM:

I seen it coming keep it up an never quit an give it all you got

 

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