Though he is only a freshman, Kel Johnson is quickly turning himself into a household name for Tech baseball.
The 19-year-old has played in all twelve games so far for the Jackets, batting in the meat of the lineup each time. Johnson has found comfortable roles in both the three-hole and cleanup spot, positions generally reserved for the team’s best hitters. He is also either first or second on the team in several statistical categories, including hits (16), home runs (4), RBIs (14) and slugging percentage (.680). Johnson is putting together one of the best freshman seasons ever. A Tech freshman hasn’t hit the ball like Johnson since Mark Teixeira played here.
On the surface, Johnson seems like a player that genuinely enjoys playing the game of baseball. He keeps a positive outlook and is appreciative of his teammates’ efforts.
“I’m just having fun playing the game,” Johnson said. “Obviously, the last couple of games haven’t been my best games at the plate, and that’s why it’s awesome to be on a team like I am where I have some awesome teammates who just really pick me up. You’ve got Murray hitting in the four-hole behind me who is just tearing the cover off the ball and a lot of other guys throughout
Before Tech, Johnson played for the East Cobb Astros, where he was twice named the team’s Offensive Player of the Year and helped them win seven national championships. His career began on a high note as he batted 4-for-5 with a grand slam in his first game, a performance that led to his first ACC Player of the Week award. Although his production has dipped as of late, Johnson maintains that consistency is the key to his success.
“It’s just about coming out and being consistent every day, doing what you do and trying to find a groove and stay there,” Johnson said. “Baseball is a game where if it were easy, it wouldn’t be
It’s an up and down game, and I’m trying to stay in the ups as much as possible.”
Johnson has been a key player in several of Tech’s victories this year. His grand slam in the home opener put the game out of reach, and another grand slam a few days later was the difference in a 7-4 win. He has also driven in several runs as part of the Jackets’ handful of close come-from-behind victories.
Johnson feels that the biggest advantage of playing at the collegiate level is the consistency of his preparation. Whether the team is at home or on the road, he is able to take batting practice in the cages and log some on-field reps with the defense, all with coaches nearby to offer
This is an improvement over his previous playing days, when road teams were generally not afforded these opportunities before a game. Johnson believes that this routine allows him to better prepare for collegiate-level pitching.
“You’re facing a guy throwing 90 miles an hour every day. In high school, that’s not the way it is. The consistency of good arms demands mental consistency every day,” Johnson said.
Head coach Danny Hall had some positive words to share on Johnson’s play and believes that he has the potential to become a professional after college.
“He has gotten off to a good start,” Hall said. “He struggled a little bit lately, which everyone is going to do, but he is a hard worker and a very good hitter. He has played well in the field, and I’m very happy with Kel. I think he’s got all the ability in the world to be a tremendous player not only here, but he’s a guy who could play for a long time.”
For now, Johnson will continue to produce for the Jackets as they look to reclaim their ACC Championship crown. Conference play begins this weekend with a series against Notre Dame at Russ Chandler Stadium.
The team will follow that series with a home contest against Georgia Southern, then a three game series at Duke to start