Pierce Johnson has been shuffled across the country multiple times since the major-league draft in June, but continues to find solace in the place he is most comfortable: the pitchers mound.
And Johnson wouldnt want it any other way.
I love it here and the experiences Ive had so far, said Johnson, who is scheduled to make his second start with the Boise Hawks on Thursday night at Tri-City. Growing up, baseball was always in my blood.
Johnson, 21, was the 43rd overall pick in the draft. The Chicago Cubs selected the Missouri State product with a supplemental first-round pick, which is sandwiched between the first and second rounds as compensation for free agency. The hard-throwing right-hander opted to forgo his senior year and agreed to a $1.196 million signing bonus.
I knew school was always an option, but my dream is to play professional baseball so it was the opportunity I had to take, Johnson said.
From a young age, Johnsons finest memories took place on the diamond. Qualcomm Stadium was basically my home, said Johnson, whose father was the vice president of marketing for the San Diego Padres. I was always out there watching batting practice.
At age 8, Johnson and his family moved to Arvada, Colo., where he starred at Faith Christian Academy. In three years as a starting pitcher, Johnson went 18-3 and was named first-team all-state twice. Johnson was drafted out of high school in the 15th round by the Tampa Bay Rays, but chose to play at Missouri State. In 2009, he enrolled at MSU and began a three-year journey of developmental growth.
I learned a lot (at MSU), Johnson said. I had a lot to improve in my game mentally and physically. I had a lot of maturing to do out of high school, so going to college was the perfect route for me.
After two years with the Bears, as a starter and reliever, Johnson played in the Cape Cod League in the summer after his sophomore season. While pitching for the Harwich Mariners, Johnsons right foot got stuck in the clay. His knee twisted and he fell to the ground. The place where Johnson felt most at home suddenly turned against him.
It was really out of nowhere, Johnson said. Nobody knew what happened because I suddenly fell over. It was a fluke accident.
Johnson returned home and rehabbed his knee in preparation for his junior season. In the spring, Johnson had his best season at MSU, striking out 114 batters and earning a 2.53 ERA in 14 starts. Although he was sidelined for a few games with a right elbow strain, Johnson positioned himself for an early-round draft pick. Once he signed with the Cubs, Johnson was sent to Mesa of the Arizona Summer League, where he appeared in three games.
Last Friday, Johnson was promoted to Boise and he made his first appearance Saturday, pitching two scoreless innings and striking out two.
So far, so good. Hes a great kid, Hawks pitching coach David Rosario said. He has a great fastball that can reach 95 mph, plus a great breaking ball and curve.
The biggest transition for Johnson hasnt been living in three places in four months, but his sudden limit on pitching. After pitching for MSU and Mesa, the Hawks are cautious about his workload and keeping his arm healthy.
He will be pitching every five days, only two innings for each outing so we will keep him warm, but he has already pitched a lot of innings, Rosario said.
Added Johnson: I am used to going long into games, and I get stronger as the game goes on so I am not used to a two-inning stint. But I am enjoying every opportunity I get.
Rosario said Johnson is one of the best prospects in the country.
He has great make up, great pitching frame. He has great stuff, Rosario said. We just need to develop his game so he can continue to pound the zone on a consistent basis.