Johnson Continues Season in "Instructs"

MESA, Ariz. -- Grant Johnson is hoping to make up for some lost time in the regular season due to injury by working in the organization's Instructional League camp.

The Cubs' first overall draft pick last year (taken with the 66th overall pick in the second round) didn't make his professional debut until this past June. He signed with the organization in August of last year and suffered through two setbacks earlier this spring, sustaining a strained hamstring and later shoulder tendonitis before arriving in A-ball at Peoria.

With the Chiefs, Johnson went 3-8 with a 3.82 ERA on the Midwest League circuit in 14 starts. He doubled his strikeouts to walks with 52 to 26, respectively, but there was something missing from Johnson's normal repertoire.

The late start to the season had an obvious effect on the right-hander from a mechanical standpoint.

"My mechanics have been screwed up this whole season," admitted Johnson, "so I'm trying to get them squared away right now. I'm constantly working on keeping my slider a good pitch and working on my changeup down here."

Johnson's mechanics showcased several flaws this season. His arm was jostling from time to time and causing him to short-aim a lot of his pitches, he said.

"With the mechanics the way they were, my slider wasn't always working," Johnson explained. "I had glimpses of ‘normal,' but what I'm looking for out of the slider is to get it back to where I can have a good feel for it."

Johnson has also been working on another pitch in the Instructional League--his changeup. The upgrade in competition from the college level to the minor leagues has only forced him to perfect the off-speed pitch even more.

In addition, Johnson is eyeing improvement in two other areas.

"Two of the biggest things I need work on are flexibility and getting back some lower body strength," Johnson said. "I lost [the latter] when I was sitting it out with the hamstring back in February."

Johnson's first taste of the minor leagues was well in line with what he expected, he says. While his numbers weren't overly bad, Johnson was a few wins shy and several points off the type of ERA his potential showcased in college at Notre Dame.

In his final season with the Irish in 2004, Johnson was 6-0 with a 1.87 ERA in 13 starts. He ended his collegiate career with 15 wins in two seasons.

"The guys in the (Midwest) League all hit really well," Johnson said. "The problem for me was that I couldn't find my third pitch, so I was primarily dealing with just the fastball the entire season. When they know it's coming and you leave it up there, they're going to crush it. I think overall the competition was good."

Johnson hopes the competition will get even better next season, as he is expected to move up the Class-A route to Daytona in time for the start of 2006.

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