Blake Johnson Bidding To Join the Elite

For the past two seasons, a pitcher drafted by the Dodgers out of high school has emerged in his second year as one of the premier prospects in the game. In 2003 it was Greg Miller, last summer, Chad Billingsley. This may be the third year in succession that this happens and it may just be that Blake Johnson is the one.

Johnson is a righthander who was taken in the second round of the 2004 selection process after he had led Parkview Baptist High of Baton Rouge, La., to the state 3-A championship. Chances are he would have been picked sooner except he injured a triceps muscle diving back into a bag and that caused a drop in velocity. The Dodgers, though, felt he could recover from that and didn't hesitate to take him. He, in turn, was thrilled to get a call from Tommy Lasorda welcoming him to the organization and signed the next day.

Sent to Ogden, he found the Pioneer League a bit advanced and managed only a 3-3 mark with a 6.47 ERA. He displayed all the pitches required, though, and when he showed command of those this spring was moved up to low A Columbus where he's been thriving as witness a 6-3, 2.90 mark. That earned him a spot in the South Atlantic League All-Star game as one of two Catfish selected. (Second baseman Travis Denker was the other.)

Ask how he's doing it and former major leaguer Glenn Dishman, the first-year pitching coach for the Fish, replies, "He has three quality pitches and he throws them all for strikes. He goes after hitters, gets a first strike and finishes them off. "

Those pitches are a fast ball in the 90-94 range. and a curve that players like to call a "yacker", the old-fashioned 12 to 6 variety that is often the finisher for him. There's also an ever-improving changeup.

So dominant has he been that in the last 46.2 innings he's pitched, he's allowed only four earned runs. That string started on May 2 when he threw a seven-inning shutout, the only complete-game blanking by a Dodger farmhand thus far. His strikeout to walk ratio -- 61 to 25 in 56 innings, demonstrates his command. He works with an easy motion and is currently holding opposing batters to a .225 average.

Blake himself attributes all this success at least in part to the fact that, "I'm a Southern boy and Columbus reminds me of home. I like it here."

What's not to like about this kid? He just had his 20th birthday June 14 and his 6-3,185-pound frame is very projectable, meaning there ought to be even more in there. There's a lot of the season left, of course. So far, though, he's given every indication that he has the ability to put his name up with the very best of a group of exceptional pitching prospects.