By MARK HAZELWOOD
Kevin Johnson was resigned to his fate.
The University of Cincinnati senior and 2006 Willard graduate was no longer expecting to hear his name called when the third day of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft was wrapping up Wednesday.
“Honestly, after I took my final exam to finish school today, I was already considering my free agent and independent league options,” Johnson said. “I was planning on not getting drafted because I had not heard anything. I had already asked my coach what I had to do in an undrafted free agent situation, and then the phone rang.”
At the other end was a representative from the Texas Rangers, informing Johnson he was the 1,276th overall selection, the 23rd pick in the 42nd round.
A year ago, Johnson was a 38th round selection by the Florida Marlins, but chose to return for his senior season for the Bearcats. By the time Wednesday had arrived, Johnson had already gotten over any disappointment he had when thinking he wasn’t going to be selected a second straight year.
“When the draft got closer and I hadn’t heard anything, there was a little sense of disappointment,” Johnson said. “My coach (Brian Cleary) had even told me to prepare for the draft not to happen, because he hadn’t heard anything either.
“I was hoping I didn’t lose an opportunity. It’s been a back and forth perception.”
There was some interest from the Chicago White Sox, but Johnson was unable to attend the team’s pre-draft workout because he was playing for Cincinnati in the Big East conference tournament.
Johnson played in all 58 games for Cincinnati this season while splitting time between first base and the mound.
He hit .258 with 14 doubles, nine home runs and 35 RBI.
Johnson had 12 multi-hit and 10 multi-RBI games for the Bearcats, and his season highlight came against Georgetown on a walk-off, three-run home run to clinch Cincinnati’s spot in the conference tournament.
On the mound, where Johnson is projected by the Rangers, he made 11 appearances, including six starts, and posted a 1-2 record.
He struck out 22 batters in 31 1/3 innings with a 3.73 ERA.
Adding to Johnson’s excitement in going to the Rangers is Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan’s involvement with the team for who he pitched from 1989 to 93.
The all-time leader in strikeouts in MLB history, Ryan was named team president in 2008 and over the past couple weeks has neared a deal with a local investor to buy the team.
When Ryan came back to the Rangers, he took a personal involvement with how pitchers were being handled.
“I’m extremely excited to be a part of the Texas Rangers,” Johnson said. “Having Nolan Ryan in charge and him having a pitcher’s mindset is a positive situation.”
One thing Johnson is certain of, there is no decision to think out this time around.
“There is no doubt this time, I’ll be signing a contract soon,” he said. “This alleviates a lot of open-ended questions I had. It’s a completely different feeling from last year, and it feels good because it’s been an uncomfortable limbo.
“I hadn’t planned on it at all in both years, but one thing I’ve learned is you don’t need impress all (30) teams, you just need to make a good impress on one,” Johnson added.
As he prepares to be a full-time pitcher, Johnson feels his lack of experience is a positive.
“There is a lot of opportunity for improvement, and I feel confident about it,” Johnson said. “ I would feel differently about the situation if I had thrown 80 innings and done OK.
“But the fact that I’ve never really had a real chance to strictly pitch and was still drafted … I just feel real good about it and my arm feels good.
“I’m ready to get down there and get to work.”