Stephen Johnson’s path to Major League Baseball draft pick is a study in patience and perseverance — and perhaps a lesson for young players developing in an era where increasingly the attitude is one of “I want to be a star now.”
The San Francisco Giants picked Johnson, a 2009 Boulder High graduate, in the sixth round of MLB’s first-year player draft on Tuesday. The moment is one the 6-foot-4, 205-pound right-handed relief pitcher could hardly have imagined four years ago.
After spending his freshman year at BHS on the freshman squad and his sophomore year on the sophomore team, he finally made junior varsity as a junior. Not until his senior year did he make varsity, though he parlayed a solid campaign that season turned into an opportunity to play at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas where he developed into a Division-II All-American.
“I put my time in,” Johnson said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I just kind of did whatever the coaches said. Not everyone has that natural ability, so you’ve got to put in that extra work. Eventually it will pay off, and for me it finally did.
“I just have to thank everyone around me, because it wasn’t a job I did by myself.”
Johnson is the second former Panther to be drafted by the Giants in four years. Left-handed pitcher Ari Ronick was taken out of the University of Portland in 2008, and is currently with the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Boulder coach Steve Disbrow said. “He’s a kid that’s earned it. He did all the right things.”
Johnson said he’s unsure where he’ll begin with the Giants, who have Single-A affiliates in Augusta, Ga., and San Jose, Calif., and a rookie league squad in Keizer, Ore. But that’s not a major concern right now.
Johnson spent Tuesday in front of the computer with his parents while visiting family in Maryland, expecting to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round.
“That passed, and I got a little nervous,” Johnson said. “But then I got my name called and everyone was so happy. It was good.”
Johnson enjoyed a breakthrough year this spring as a junior for St. Edwards, recording a 1-2 record, 1.45 earned run average, 74 strikeouts and 18 saves in 431/3 innings as the Hilltoppers’ closer.
After an up-and-down first couple of years as a starting pitcher, Johnson moved into the bullpen last summer while playing with the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League, a squad that won last summer’s National Baseball Congress World Series.
With a fastball in the 86-88 mile-per-hour range in high school, Johnson’s velocity slowly rose during college, topping out at 97 last summer. But he really began turning heads this spring in the closer role, consistently throwing in the 96-97 range and clocking as high as 101 and 102 on the radar gun during different games this spring.
He said the success was the culmination of a slow progression of him growing into his frame and getting his mechanics down, not to mention plenty of hard work along the way.
“I guess it just finally all clicked,” Johnson said.
Johnson is one of two players with Boulder County ties drafted so far this week. Former Faith Christian standout Pierce Johnson, who played on the Boulder County Tigers Legion A team in 2008, was drafted out of Missouri State by the Cubs on Monday with the 43rd overall pick.
Former Skyline High star Derrick Bleeker, an outfielder/pitcher at Arkansas who passed up being picked by the Washington Nationals out of junior college last summer, could hear his named called Wednesday as the draft concludes with rounds 16-40.
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