Photo by John Nanako

Tech freshman All-American right fielder Kel Johnson participated in the College Home Run Derby earlier this month where he was eliminated in the semifinals and finished third overall. Johnson set a record for most home runs hit in the first round of the derby when he launched 17. Unfortunately for Johnson, the record did not last very long. The very next batter after Johnson, North Dakota’s Jeff Campbell, broke the record by hitting 20 home runs in his first round.

After Johnson hit in the second round, he was in second place with 23 home runs total and led the final hitter of the round, Wake Forest’s Will Craig, by 14 home runs. Craig, the 2015 ACC Player of the Year, hit 16 home runs to pass Johnson by two and advance to the final round where he faced off against Campbell.

Campbell defeated Craig 10-4 in the final round.

Johnson is not the first Tech freshman to compete in the home run derby. Two years ago, Tech junior left fielder Matt Gonzalez made it to the final round as a freshman before falling to Rice’s Michael Aquino 6-5 in the final.  Gonzalez hit 16 total home runs in the 2013 Derby, one less than Johnson’s 2015 first round.

The increase in home runs in the 2015 Derby is very likely due to the new flat-seam ball the college baseball adopted this season. The flat-seamed ball, when thrown out of a pitching machine setup to simulate the typical home run, traveled on average 20 feet further than the previously used raised-seam ball. At the midpoint of the 2015 regular season, there was a 39 percent increase in home runs hit per compared to 2014 season.