Baseball has been 'heck of a ride' for Johnson, and the road trip continues

Baseball has been 'heck of a ride' for Johnson, and the road trip continues

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**

When Tyler Johnson saw his name come off the board in the fifth round of the MLB Draft to the Chicago White Sox, he was understandably excited. But when he saw one, and then two, of his South Carolina teammates snagged by the White Sox, well, that just made it even better.

Johnson, outfielder/designated hitter Alex Destino (14th round) and pitcher John Parke (21st round) all traveled out to Arizona for minicamp on Friday, officially beginning their professional careers together.

"Can't get enough of them, and even if I had I didn't have a choice," Johnson joked. "I'm very pumped to have them with me. I'm sure at some point we'll be separated when some guys get moved or whatnot. But as we're figuring things out, we can do that together. It's definitely a comforting feeling."

Gamecock MLB Draft recap

Kevin Burrell, the area scout for the White Sox, and Johnson formed a good relationship, although there were several teams interested in the South Carolina junior. In the end, Chicago took Johnson with the 147th overall pick.

Johnson was able to travel back home to Richmond, Virginia, and take in the draft with his family. It truly became a celebration when Johnson was drafted, and there may not have been anyone more excited than his mother, who has always had trouble calming herself down when her son is on the mound pitching. It's hard to imagine her reaction when Johnson became an MLB draft pick. 

"She was definitely the most excited and relieved after it all," Johnson said. 

Former Gamecock, Braves fan Clarke Schmidt thrilled to join Yankees

Now Johnson's attention turns to his professional future, where there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Following the minicamp in Arizona, Johnson will be sent to a rookie league team. He was drafted as a starter by the White Sox, and fully believes he has what it takes to make a rotation in the MLB. 

Johnson was also drafted as a starter by South Carolina out of high school. However, after a freshman season in which his velocity took a huge jump, Johnson was moved to the bullpen, where he developed into an elite closer his final two years, racking up 19 saves over that time period.

The focus for Johnson in professional baseball will be to showcase all three of his pitches. While closing for the Gamecocks, he relied heavily on a high-90s fastball that led to 107 strikeouts in 86 career innings pitched.

"When you're trying to close three outs, you're going to make those guys hit your fastball and try not to make too many mistakes because everything is magnified," Johnson said. "You can become a little bit one-dimensional." 

Johnson endured a tough stretch toward the end of the regular season this past year, but turned it on in the SEC Tournament. In an elimination game against Vanderbilt, Johnson pitched 4.1 innings of scoreless baseball and struck out eight batters in the victory. His final appearance proved to be a two-out save against Kentucky in the conference tournament.

Johnson was proud of how his team fought to the very end, and while it didn't result in coach Chad Holbrook maintaining his job, Johnson will forever be thankful to the coach who gave him a chance.

"I owe him my whole baseball career because of the opportunities that he gave me," Johnson said of Holbrook. "I didn't play very much as a freshman, put myself in position to become more physical and compete. After that, I think I gave up three runs against The Citadel and was kind of thinking, 'I might get buried here,' but he kept giving me opportunities. He probably gave me more than I deserved, and I'll be forever thankful for that."

South Carolina's baseball tradition will attract an elite head coach

As Johnson begins his pursuit of "The Show" there are sure to be a lot of up and downs. The decision on whether he is a starter or reliever is out of his hands, but he's focusing on doing everything possible to keep playing the game he loves.

"I've been playing baseball since I was four or five and I've wanted to play baseball ever since," Johnson said. "It's been a heck of a ride."