Growing up in Pleasant Grove, Alabama, Sky Sox starting pitcher, Alan Johnson began playing baseball at the young age of four. While coming into his own as a ball player he developed an admiration for two outstanding pitchers in Sandy Koufax and Greg Maddux. Not a bad duo of guys to look up to.
Johnson’s baseball career has come a long way since his days as a four-year-old in Alabama. He pushed himself hard enough to play collegiately at Mississippi State University and used his time there as a launching pad to a professional career in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Johnson wasn’t so sure he would get the shot to play professionally, however, as he went undrafted in the 2005 June draft.
“Draft day I was kind of expecting to go late. It was kind of funny because it was me and my roommate and we had both been told it was a possibility we could go mid to late rounds and we were just sitting there watching the computer and it didn’t happen so we just said, ‘well I guess it’s about that time,” Johnson explained. ” Then we were packing up; ready to move out of our apartment and he gets a call later that evening, and I was like, ‘well congratulations,’ then I drove back home and the next day I got a call from a scout on the Rockies and he asked if I still wanted to play and I said, ‘of course, yeah!”
Johnson is a very humble young man, even at 25-years-old he is still thrilled at the fact he gets to play baseball everyday for a living.
“That’s all I was looking for; is the opportunity to continue playing baseball.” Johnson said, “It’s always been a dream to play professional baseball, but you never really think it’s actually going to happen. I’ve been given the opportunity and I’m trying to take full advantage of it.”
So far in his young career Johnson has been a workhorse. He has pitched a ton of innings the past couple of years. In 2008, he spent the entire season in Double-A Tulsa and led the club in starts (28) and innings pitched (175.2). His 175.2 innings pitched and 28 starts were both the second most by any pitcher in the Texas League that year. The story was no different the year before in Modesto where his 168.2 innings pitched were the third highest in the Cal League.
“I’ve been durable since the first year I’ve ever pitched,” Johnson said, ” It is something I take pride in because I don’t want to miss a start. I like going deep into games and giving your team a chance to win.”
Johnson has gotten off to a great start to the 2009 season for the Sky Sox. He is 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA and in his Triple-A debut, which was at home in Colorado Springs, tossed six scoreless innings and only allowed two hits. Thus far, left handed hitters are only hitting .135 against him compared to right-handed hitters, who are not doing much better, batting .192.
“This off-season I said I’m just going to go out there and have fun. I want to be committed to the pitches I’m throwing, but just go out there and have fun, because if you don’t have fun you just kind of think about everything.” Johnson reiterated.
Johnson doesn’t get too fancy when on the mound. He admitted his favorite pitch to throw is his fastball, as it has been his bread and butter throughout his career.
“It’s really been my money pitch,” Johnson explained. “I can throw it anytime that I want to, it’s just something I’ve kind of lived and died by.”
Although it’s still very early in the season, Johnson has not only impressed with his pitching, but even more so with his batting. As of his most recent outing, Johnson is batting an impressive .667 in two games with four hits, one being a double, four RBI and has a slugging percentage of .833. His four RBI are only three shy of tying the franchise record for RBI in a season by a pitcher which is held by two others, Jason Jennings and Jason Young. The interesting thing is Johnson has never had a professional season in which he was known for being a great hitter. He never had an at bat at Modesto and when in Tulsa he went 3-for-23.
“I didn’t even hit in college, and in high school I hit around .340 or .350,” Johnson said. “I’ve always enjoyed hitting, I took a few more cuts this off-season just kind of fooling around I guess, worked on my swing a little bit, and I guess it’s paid off so far.”
When looking ahead to the remainder of the season, Johnson feels the teams’ camaraderie is the most important thing to its success.
“If the team doesn’t get along you are not going to win,” Johnson said, “There are a lot of guys that have plenty of talent but if your team is not gelled or they don’t care about each other you’re not going to win.”
Explaining the solidarity among everyone on the Sky Sox, Johnson said, “Nobody here is really selfish, to me, everybody just kind of looks after each other and enjoys being around each other.”
Our apologize for missing last weeks entry for the Saturday Sox Notes. We’ll make up for it this week by including some notes from last weeks as well.
Saturday, April 25
WHAT A START:With their win last night, the Sky Sox have now matched the best start in team history. Their 10-5 record to begin the season equals the 10-5 start by the 1997 squad that finished that year with a 76-64 record. The ’97 team is also the last Sky Sox team to make the playoffs.
MURTON MASHING: Sky Sox rightfielder Matt Murton has been on a tear. Through the first 15 games of the season, Murton is hitting .413 (26-for-63) with three homers, five doubles, 15 RBIs, 16 runs scored and five stolen bases. He is tied for the Minor League lead with his 26 hits and leads the Sky Sox in hitting, hits, homers and runs scored. Murton has also recorded 10 multi-hit games this.
THICK AS THIEVES:Second baseman Eric Young Jr. is off to a thieving start. Young Jr. has played in 11 games thus far swiping 11 bases to lead all of Minor League Baseball. The Sky Sox record for stolen bases in a single season was set by Wayne Kirby in 1992 with 51. As a team, the Sox have stolen a league-high 26 bags. The team record for stolen bases in a season is 149 set in 2000.
Friday, April 24
TRIPLE TIME: Aces centerfielder Alex Romero had a big game last night going 4-for-5 with two triples, two runs scored and two RBIs to lead Reno past Colorado Springs 8-5. His two triples tied the most ever by an opposing player in Sky Sox history and marked the 13th time an opponent knocked out two, three-baggers. The last player to accomplish the feat was Jon Knott for Portland on June 30, 2006 at Security Service Field.
Thursday, April 23
GONZALEZ GOES OFF:Centerfielder Carlos Gonzalez was an RBI machine in yesterday’s 16-8 thrashing as he finished the game going 2-for-5 with six runs driven in. It was the most RBIs in a single game for the Sox this season and the most since Matt Miller plated six runs on August 12, 2008 against Tucson at Security Service Field.
OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION:That same August 12th game against Tucson last year also featured the last time the Sky Sox scored at least 16 runs and knocked out at least 20 hits as they did yesterday. In the game last year, the Sox outscored the Sidewinders 21-5 runs and registered 24 hits.
Tuesday, April 21
DALEY DOMINANCE: Through his first five outings of the seaons, Sox middle reliever has been very impressive. In five games, the right-hander has tossed 8.0 innings and given up just one run (1.13 ERA) while striking out a team-high 15 batters which ranks third in the PCL. He has also inherited seven runners and not allowed any of them to score.
Sunday, April 19
ORTMEIER ON HIS GAME: Sky Sox first baseman Dan Ortmeier is off to a hot start in 2009. In each of his first seven games, Ortmeier has recorded at least one hit and turned in five two-hit games for a .429 batting average (T-4th in the PCL). He also has two doubles and a triple as well as seven RBIs. Dating back to the end of last season, Ortmeier has put together a nine-game hitting-streak.
Friday, April 17
DOUBLE OUTBREAK:Yesterday, the Sox batters knocked out a season-high seven doubles off Reno pitchers. Despite that high number, the seven doubles fell short of the Sky Sox record of nine that was recorded at home on September 4, 2005 vs. Fresno.
Sky Sox relief pitcher Matt Daley is a guy a lot of baseball fans may not know about. Flying under the radar is nothing new to him seeing as how he wasn’t recognized initially by any Major League scouts either.
Instead of being drafted, Daley was signed by the Colorado Rockies the week following the 2004 MLB draft as an undrafted free agent.
“I was expecting to be drafted but it just didn’t happen,” Daley explained, “After the draft, my summer coach called me and asked me what had happened and I just told him, ‘I really don’t know.’ So, he ended up calling some of his contacts and one of them was with the Rockies and the Rockies ended up signing me based off that.”
Daley has never let not getting drafted bring him down. He instead has channeled that situation and used it as motivation.
“To know that not one or two, but all 30 teams overlooked you and didn’t think you were good enough has pushed me pretty far and pretty hard,” Daley said, “I knew I had to outwork everybody because I wasn’t a prospect.”
Daley is no stranger to pushing himself, as he has improved every year since being signed. Last year, in fact, Daley was one of four pitchers that contributed to the first ever no-hitter at Security Service Field, the other pitchers involved were Franklin Morales, Steven Register and Chris George . Daley recorded 1 1/3 shutout innings striking out two giving the Sky Sox their second no-hitter in team history and first at home.
This spring the Rockies organization decided to reward Daley with an invitation to his first ever major league training camp.
“It was a dream come true. It was a great experience getting to know the major league coaches and having them getting to know me,” Daley said
All his hard work is starting to pay off this season. Although its still very early, Daley is out to a spectacular start. He has appeared in four games this season and has allowed just one run over 5 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts posting an ERA of 1.59. His most impressive appearance came in the Sky Sox third game of the season where Daley made quick work of the Las Vegas 51′s tossing two perfect innings retiring six straight batters, four via strikeouts, and only needing 18 pitches to get the job done.
In his most recent game against the Reno Aces, Daley was called upon in a two-out bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the seventh inning where he was able to strike out Aces second baseman Guillermo Reyes to end the scare.
Daley attributes his fast start to having a healthy arm and using the advice the Rockies gave him in spring camp.
“Just getting some confidence in me from spring training has carried over to the beginning of the year,” Daley said, “From my talk with the Rockies they said one of the things I’m going to need to do is get off to a quick start, so I’m trying to use that as motivation.”
He also attributes a lot of his success to his trio of catchers Sal Fasano, Edwin Bellorin and Paul Phillips.
“The catchers are my best source, they are all veteran guys that have been around the game and know how to attack the hitters,” Daley mentioned, “I think that’s a pretty cool thing to be able to pick their brains.”
When asked about what he, personally, and the Sky Sox wanted to accomplish this season Daley was humble in saying, “As a team, obviously, the goal is to get to the playoffs. On a personal level, I didn’t really set any goals, I just want to do the best that I can and pitch the way that I know I can, and if I do that good things will happen.”
So far so good for Daley who will have this entire season to keep on showing people that he is a talent worth making note of.
Every Saturday this season, we’ll be posting Sky Sox news and notes from the previous week that encompass everything from odd occurances to hot streaks. Here’s the first installment.
Opening Day, April 9 vs. Las Vegas:
LET’S GET IT STARTED: The Sky Sox open up their 22nd season of baseball today with a home match-up against the Las Vegas 51s. In their previous 21 seasons, the Sox are 9-12 in season openers and 10-11 in their first home games of the season. Today’s game will mark the second time that Colorado Springs has started the season against Las Vegas and the second time they’ve started the season at home against the 51s (previous season opener vs. LVG: 4/7/05, 3-8 loss). The Sky Sox have lost their last four season openers and last recorded a win in the opener in 2004 at Nashville (6-3 win).
OPENING DAY STARTERS: Sox starting pitcher Greg Reynolds is making his second straight Opening Day start for the Sky Sox today becoming the fourth pitcher to make back-to-back Opening Day starts in the Sox 22 year history. He joins Mike Walker (1989-90), Mark Brownson (1998-99) and Jason Young (2003-04) in that catagory. The only other pitcher to make more than one Opening Day start on the mound for Colorado Springs is John Thompson who was the Opening Day starter for the Sox in 1997 and 2001.
April 10 vs. Las Vegas:
150 VICTORIES: With their win last night, the Sky Sox have now won 150 regular season games against Las Vegas which is the most for the Sox against any one PCL team. The Sox overall record against Vegas is now 150-136 (3-2 in the post season).
TORONTO: Last night’s game marked the first time in the Sky Sox’ 22-year history that the team has faced off against a team affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Sox have now played against 19 of the 30 Major League affiliates.
April 11 vs. Las Vegas:
THAT SPELLS RELIEF: Through the first two games of the season, the Sox bullpen has shoulder a good bit of the workload. Combined, the Sox relief core has tossed 9.1 innings and given up just 2 ER (1.93 ERA) and struck out 10.
MISCUES: For the second straight game, the Sky Sox committed three errors but still won the contest. In the Sox’ 22-year history the team has accomplished that feat six times now. The last time it happened was nine years ago when Springs did it on August 8th and 9th of 1999 at Fresno (Won 14-11 with 14 R, 19 H, 3 E) and vs. Edmonton (Won 10-8 with 10 R, 17 H, 3 E).
With the season opening game just two days away, the Sky Sox suited up for their first action of the season as the squad took the field against Colorado State University – Pueblo in a scrimmage at Security Service Field on Tuesday afternoon. Even though the Sky Sox Opening Day roster has not be finalized yet several players saw significant time today. The game started off with both teams putting up a few early runs but the Sox pulled away in the middle and late innings to top CSU Pueblo by the final tally of 17-2.
Here is skipper Tom Runnells’ starting lineup from today’s matchup:
1. Mike McCoy – 2B
2. Carlos Gonzalez – CF
3. Matt Miller – LF
4. Dan Ortmeier – 1B
5. Matt Murton – RF
6. Christian Colonel – 3B
7. Kenny Perez – DH
8. Edwin Bellorin – C
9. Jonathan Herrera – SS
10. Josh Fogg – SP
Sky Sox On the Mound: Fogg started the game and threw one inning while giving up the two CSU tallies on three hits. Right-hander Alan Johnson entered the game in the second and tossed five shutout innings to pick up the win. Johson surrendered just two hits, walked none and struck out three in his first appearance in a Sox uniform. He retired the final nine straight batters he faced before giving way to relievers Scott Munter, Matt Daley and Franklin Nunez who all worked a scoreless frame each.
Sky Sox at the Plate: Overall, the Sox bats cranked out 19 hits and drew seven walks en route to their 15 run victory. Several players turned in solid outings:
Chris Frey: 2-for-4, homer, double, walk, four RBIs
Kenny Perez: 3-for-5, homer, three RBIs
Chrisitan Colonel: 2-for-4, two doubles, walk, three RBIs
Matt Miller: 2-for-5, homer, double, three RBIs
Several questions have already started to roll in and we very much appreciate all of them! Please keep them coming and we’ll do our best to answer them all.
“How soon will the 2009 roster be available?”
As most baseball fans know, the decisions on who will make the Rockies opening day roster have a trickle-down affect for the rest of the minor league system especially at the Triple-A level. Those veteran players and young prospects vying for the open spots on the Major League roster that don’t make it will most likely be sent down to the Sky Sox. Some of the veteran players will have a choice on whether to accept the assignment or become a free agent and some players may be released. So, once the tough decisions are made at the Major League level, the tough choices are then made at the Triple-A level and so on down the line throughout the minor league system. This is why we rarely know our final opening day roster until the day that the team is scheduled to arrive from Tucson which is this Sunday, April 5. If, however, we are giving the roster by the Rockies sooner than that we will certainly make it available to all of you as soon as possible.