This Catfish Was Tough to Catch

When Blake Johnson felt the need for motivation while pitching for Columbus this past season, he didn't need to go any further than his room. Johnson's roommates were Scott Elbert and Chris Malone, and that constituted the Big Three of the Catfish pitching staff. As Blake puts it, "We seemed to feed off each other's success. When one guy would have a good start, you'd want to go out and do better."

For over the first half of the season, Johnson was the leader of the pack, putting together a string of impressive performances that earned him a spot in the South Atlantic League's All-Star game, the only member of the Fish staff so selected. That was a standard he kept up until it was felt that he needed a bit of a respite so was placed in the bullpen in the closing month of the season.

"They wanted me to get the experience of working out of the 'pen and at the same time backed me off a bit because it was my first full season," Blake notes. So, while the pace was lessoned, the quality wasn't as he wound up a most satisfactory campaign at 9-4, 3.33.

Record-wise it was a vast improvement over his first pro year when, fresh from high school in Baton Rouge, La., he managed only a 3-3, 6.37 mark at Ogden. Even during that while his inexperience showed, he flashed a fast ball that reached 94 mph, sitting in the low 90's for the most part, plus a sharp curve, the pitches that earned him a second-round pick in the 2004 draft.

This season, under Columbus pitching coach Glenn Dishman's tutelage, he learned a lot about "How to set up a hitter and a good mental approach to the game." Now, he's in the Instructional League. "Getting a better feel for my secondary pitches." His curve is a classic 12-6 yacker while his changeup is coming along.

Certainly the growth factor was evident at Columbus. Even though the team didn't fare well, Johnson certainly did. He held hitters to a .226 mark, allowing only four home runs in 100 innings. He has the perfect pitcher's frame at 6-5 and should fill out from his 195 pounds to get stronger.

He celebrated his 20th birthday in June and, despite his bullpen experience, should be kept in a starting role; at least, in the near future.

Looking around the Instructional League locker room, Blake observes, "There's a lot of pitching prospects here." That there are and he's one of the better ones.