"Baseball? We never taught you baseball, why baseball?"
"I played it at school today, and I want to play baseball."
That was a conversation some 17-18 years ago in Tampa, Florida between Sherman Johnson Jr. and his father. Today, Sherman is a professional baseball player.
Safe to say it was a good conversation right? Sherman Johnson is a prospect in the Los Angeles Angels system. He was selected in the 14th round of the 2012 draft and currently is playing in Advanced Class-A with the California League, Inland Empire 66ers.
Johnson has drawn comparisons with his flashy glove at multiple positions, his diverse speed, and good plate presence to a former Angels utility player, Chone Figgins.
Only two seasons in the minors after being drafted in the 14th round of the 2012 draft, Johnson has made strides through the Angels farm system. Jumping right out of the draft and in to Rookie Ball with the Orem Owlz, Johnson had no problem hitting the professional level with ease. Walking more times than he struckout (49 BB/40 K), he reached base on balls every 4.89 plate appearances, something you hardly ever see from someone who comes out of the draft. Along with that, Johnson posted a .427 on base percentage (20 points higher than his slugging percentage).
2013, everyone got to see what Johnson was really like in his first professional season, and he did not disappoint. He had just slight drops in the hitting numbers but still managed to maintain a strong presence as a leadoff hitter in Low-A with the Burlington Bees, before a very late season callup to the High-A Inland Empire 66ers, where he went on to be a big part of their California League Championship run
Yada, yada, yada, statistics, bleh. Stats don't tell you what kind of person a player is. That's for those who have met the players and know them. Now, I've only just met Sherman, and I'll tell you what... he is one of the most humble people I think I've ever met in the sport. He's very confident in his abilities, but his humility stood out like a sore thumb to me (in a positive way, of course). He has a true love for the city of Tampa and the players he grew up watching and playing with, and honestly, he's just a fun guy to talk with.
Without further delay, here's your chance to meet Sherman Johnson Jr. :
Scout : Tell me about Sherman Johnson, how'd you get to where you are now?
Johnson : It's actually interesting. My dad played basketball in college. Nobody in my family played baseball before me. It was just one of those things where I was just in school one day and in kindergarden we all went outside and played baseball in recess and I came home and just told my parents, "I wanna play baseball," and it kind of shocked them. They kind of looked at me sideways and were like, "what do you mean you want to play baseball? We've never introduced you to baseball." I was like, "yeah, I wanna play baseball. I played it today at school and I want to play." They were like, "Okay, if you still want to play baseball in a month, we'll let you play." So, I asked them every day for a month if I could play, and when the month was up I went out and tried out and I was terrible (laughs). My first position was actually left field where they usually stick the guy that can't play (laughs again). Then I just picked it up rather quickly, worked my way in to the infield, pitched a little bit, caught a little bit, and the rest is history. I went on to play at Alonzo with a couple guys that are playing right now, most noticeably, Jose Fernandez from the [Miami] Marlins. The city of Tampa is really a hot bed for baseball and that whole region of Florida. Baseball is competitive there and there's a lot of guys I see out here that I'm playing against that I'm like, "oh man, we could be playing back home right now (laughs)." It's cool.
Scout : How about recentely?
Johnson : Coming up out of high school I was undersized so I didn't get any offers out of high school, I walked on at Florida State. Played all four years there and actually didn't get anything from the Angels. I didn't know I was getting drafted by the Angels at all. I was happy and shocked when I heard my name, it was exciting, I was excited for the opportunity.
Scout : Let's hear about your draft experience?
Johnson : It was just me and my best friend, Devin Travis. We were at his apartment. It was just us two and we were listening. He was supposed to get drafted like the fifth or sixth round, he was getting calls. It was kind of interesting because he gave them a number before, he gave them an exact number, and me, I was a senior, so I was just looking for an opportunity to play. He just had this number and when the [Detroit] Tigers called they were like, "we don't know if we can give you that because we're going to draft you in the 13th round," and he was like, "okay, I guess I'll just go back to school," because he was a Junior and he was set on that. A big college guy and we had a game the next day against Stanford and he went out there and he went off. Actually, I think their scouting director was in town to watch him play and he went off. I think he was 4-for-5 with a home run and a double. Just going through it with him, just getting the text back and winning throughout the playoffs back in college, it was good, we got to share that moment together. He got the call and he was excited, and I actually got drafted the round later and people knew before I did. I was still happy for him, going over there, we were hugging each other and I turn around and my phone is just buzzing off the hook and I looked at it and was like, "Oh! I guess I just got drafted too," so it was like back-to-back, the house was just happy man. It was a good time, we all went out to dinner that night and it was a good time.
Scout : At Florida State, you were a third baseman. You still play third, but now, you also play the outfield, second base, and shortstop. People have drawn the comparison to Chone Figgins, is that a good feeling?
Johnson : Oh of course, anytime you get compared to somebody in the big leagues it can't be a bad thing. Chone is a great player for awhile in the big leagues, so anytime anybody says that about you it's very humbling and I'm very appreciative of it.
Scout : Being a part of a Championship team, how did that make you crave winning more and becoming better?
Johnson : It was awesome. Just, everything from the guys in here, from the staff, from the Front Office, THE FANS, everything how we were treated when you're winning is just better. I'm not going to say you're treated like big leaguers because you're not treated like big leaguers until you get there, but it just felt like we weren't minor leaguers for the playoffs. When we were winning, it's just a great feeling and once you get that you just want to keep winning. You always want to get back to that and that's what we're trying to do here.
Scout : What does Denny Hocking and Brent Del Chiaro have set for you to work on over the 2014 season?
Johnson : Just to keep getting better defensively and offensively. Just working on getting on base and being more consistent with the bat and to be a little more aggressive with the bat too. I'm kind of a patient hitter. I need to get on base but I also need to be a little more aggressive so that's what I'm working on with "Delly" (Brent Del Chiaro), our hitting coach.
As always, we have to thank Sherman for taking his time to sit down and talk with us. He's a special baseball player and a special guy, who we believe, has a strong future ahead with the Angels organization.
Make sure to follow Sherman on Twitter, @ShermSticky32, and don't forget to follow @ScoutAngels for updates on new stories. Follow our Publisher, @TaylorBlakeWard, for to the minute updates and transactions on the Angels and their farm system.