June 10, 2010 9:28:00 AM
R.J. Johnson has a big decision to make.
Will the hard-throwing right hander turn professional after being drafted Tuesday by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 36th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft? Or will he head to college?
The Starkville High School graduate isn''t sure just yet, torn between his parents'' desire to see him go to college and his ambitions of being a professional ball player.
He hasn''t talked contract figures with the Brewers and isn''t letting dollar signs cloud his vision of what he thinks is the best road.
"We''ll talk, and if we agree on something great. If not, I''ll go to school and wait another year," Johnson said. "It depends on my family and what my mom and dad think. We''ll go from there."
Johnson, who hit better than .400 and tripled his home run total from his junior season, pitches in the high 80s to low 90s.
At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Johnson was Starkville High coach Danny Carlisle''s No. 1 pitcher the past two seasons. He led Starkville High in strikeouts and ERA and helped the Yellow Jackets earn a second consecutive playoff berth.
Johnson said he wasn''t surprised the Brewers selected him, as they were one of five teams that showed significant interest.
Despite being pegged as a "thrower" rather than a pure pitcher by some scouts, Carlisle saw enough of former Yellow Jacket, University of Alabama, and pro pitcher Meredith Sanford in Johnson.
"Other than their demeanor on the mound, they''re very similar in terms of pro potential," Carlisle said. "I''d talked to enough scouts that I knew he''d get drafted. I told R.J. that, too. It was so much a matter of if as it was when and where."
Suggested draft slots and team plans for late-round draft picks differ, but Johnson said he is impressed by Milwaukee''s farm system.
To help guide him through the process, Johnson has received counsel from Curtis Reed Sr., whose son, Curtis, was a standout at Naperville. Johnson and Curtis Jr. are cousins.
"His dad has given me some pointers on not settling for less, with pros or college," Johnson said. "My biggest thing is having a backup plan just in case. What if I get hurt? I don''t want to be out of the blue either way I go. Curtis got hurt, but he''s a financial advisor right now."
Johnson''s door for college is open at LSU-Eunice and Wallace State (Ala.) have offered him. He has visits lined up at both schools. He also is weighing a trip to Meridian Community College.
"I told him, R.J.''s got to go wherever makes R.J. happy," Carlisle said. "If they take him and he signs, he''s going to get an education package as part of his deal. You go to school to learn a trade and make money. A great life would be making money playing the game if he''s fortunate enough to make it. What an option to weight out."
Johnson''s Starkville High teammate, Chuck Tillery, wasn''t selected on the final day of the draft. He''s weighing offers from Northwest Florida and Wallace State.