Cubs Prospect Interview: Grant Johnson

Grant Johnson knows the two-plus years since he was drafted have not been kind. Is his luck about to change?

A second-round pick in a year in which the Cubs had no first-round privileges, Johnson has at times struggled to stay healthy for prolonged periods and has posted overly average numbers by most standards.

Toward the second half of last year, the right-hander was moved to the bullpen at Class-A Daytona and seemed to take to the role. He finished 7-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 31 appearances, including 21 games in relief.

We caught up with the 23-year-old recently and got his thoughts on relief pitching, his work in the Instructional League, and what he hopes to accomplish in 2007.

You got your feet wet in the bullpen a season ago. Looking back on it all, how would you describe the experience of pitching in relief, and do you have any insight as to what role the organization sees you in heading into 2007?

I'm not really sure what the plan is this year. I kind of got a feeling for the bullpen toward the end of last year. I like starting, but whatever it takes to help the team and to get where I want to go, I'm willing to do it.

Had you ever experienced the bullpen at any time previously in your career?

Not really. I came out of the bullpen maybe in high school, but only for one of the extra games during a week. Other than that, I hadn't really.

Coming out of the bullpen as opposed to getting ready for a start, did you alter much in terms of your preparation?

The only thing that's really drastically different is, when you're starting, you get time to long-toss and time to stretch properly. When you're in the bullpen, you get the call and they want to have you ready in like two minutes. The only thing that's really different is as soon as you get called on, you're throwing as hard as you can to get going and you get stretched out as quickly as you can. That's the only real difference.

We may have asked this the last time we spoke, but did you notice any change in your velocity coming out of the ‘pen as opposed to when you were starting?

It was pretty much the same. I didn't feel any drastic difference.

In terms of repertoire, are you still throwing virtually the same pitches now as you were when the Cubs drafted you?

Yeah, for the most part I am. I've changed the grip on my changeup a little bit. I think this last go-around, I finally found something I liked and something that will stick. It's more of a split-changeup now as opposed to the circle change that I was throwing before.

Has there been anything else that you've picked up and are starting to work on?

I've only thrown (professionally) for like a year and a half, but in that time, I've been in a slump where I can't find my original stuff; finding the stuff I've always had. This whole time, I haven't really tried to fiddle with anything too much except for trying to get back my basic mechanics and get back into the groove.

What can you tell us about your stint in the Instructional League last fall?

We worked on staying tall on my back leg when I lift, and throwing downhill. We also worked on keeping the elbow up instead of dropping down a little bit. There were a lot of things talked about when discussing a change in my mechanics, but I think what it comes down to is just a few things here or there that need to be changed to get back into that groove.

You were on the DL once last year. How does your arm feel right now?

It feels great. I don't have any problems with it at all.

This is a little off-topic, but how much do you know about Jeff Samardzija, whom you played with for a season at Notre Dame?

Other than knowing a little bit about his personality and the way he throws obviously, I don't really know too much about him. He's pursuing baseball and that's what he wants to do. Obviously, I wish the best of luck to him and I'll be seeing him and catching up with him in Spring Training.

Do you have any goals for what you'd like to accomplish this season and maybe what level you'd like to start out at?

As far as where I want to be pitching, I don't care. This year, all I want to do is throw like I know I can. The first year and a half, I haven't. I haven't thrown well at all. If I throw like I know I'm able to, this should be a good year. That's what I'm looking forward to and what I'm focusing on this year.

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