By: Burke Granger
Cooper Johnson – C – Carmel Catholic (Ill.). 6’0″ 200. Bats: Right. Throws: Right. College Commitment: Mississippi
Scouted: Prep Baseball Report’s Super 60, McCook (Ill.). February 7, 2016.
A veteran of the showcase circuit, Cooper Johnson entered the year as the 22nd ranked high school player by Baseball America, while landing at 27 on D1Baseball‘s list. With a muscular 6’0″ 200 lb frame and donning a gold plated catching mask in the resembling a Notre Dame football helmet, Johnson stands out even before he picks up a bat or ball.
2015 Stats: .382 BA, .479 OBP, 11 2B, 3 HR, 33 RBI (Unofficial)
HITTING – Johnson’s bat is behind the glove at this point, but most human’s bats are behind Johnson’s glove. With a wide stance and simple load, Johnson has a line drive stroke. At the Super 60, Johnson sprayed balls to all fields and registered a 92 mph exit velocity. Pitch recognition has been a challenge for Johnson in the past and his bat speed is below some of the other prep bats in this draft.
POWER – Johnson uses a powerful lower half to generate line drives. He gets good extension on an uppercut swing to drive the ball into the gaps. As the hit tool progresses, I see projection in developing additional power as a professional.
SPEED – Like most catchers, Johnson is a below average runner, registering a 7.26 60-yard dash putting him at a 30 on the 20/80 scouting scale.
ARM – Johnson put on a show at the Super 60, with pop times of 1.80, 1.81, and 1.83, best at his position. Flashing a present 70 grade arm is one thing in the controlled field house environment of a showcase, but I spoke with an American League area scout who had Johnson at 1.84 in live game action. Johnson’s throws to second base reached 85 mph, an event high among catchers.
DEFENSE – Johnson has advanced catch and throw skills, especially for his age. While Johnson is not fast, he does have quick feet. The footwork and flexibility while blocking, receiving and throwing is among the best I’ve seen in a prep catcher. The showcase circuit appears to have seasoned him as a receiver by learning to adapt to catching many different pitchers very quickly. Prior to participating the UnderAmour All-America game in 2015, Johnson attended the event as a bullpen catcher in 2014 where he caught future first rounders Ashe Russell and Mike Nikorak.
FUTURE -The recent track record for prep catchers selected in the first round has not been good. Over the last three seasons, three high school catchers have been selected in the first first round (excluding the supplementary round). The Reds took Tyler Stephenson 11th overall last season. With only 54 professional games under Stephenson’s belt, it’s too early to tell if he’ll hit, but he will look to improve upon his .361 slugging percentage. In 2013, two glove first prep backstops went in the first round but neither has shown aptitude with the bat yet. The Pittsburgh Pirates took Reese McGuire 14th overall, and while his glove has been as advertised, he’s posted a paltry .648 OPS in over 1000 professional plate appearances. In the same vein, the Tampa Bay Rays selected Nick Ciuffo 21st overall and his glove is also ahead of his bat, as evidenced by his career .605 OPS. If a team that is enamored with Johnson’s glove has faith in the bat, as was the case with McGuire and Ciuffo, Johnson could be selected early enough to prevent him from following through on his commitment to Ole Miss. Johnson’s catch and throw skills are advanced, and there is a greater likelihood that a player with a special arm can learn to hit, than the contrary.
DISCLAIMER: It’s important to note that I’m not a trained scout. I do however actually go to see these guys play live, which is more than you’ll get from many online “Scouting Reports”. I also talk to scouts when I’m there. While scouts reserve their reports for their employer, I can share my thoughts with you, the reader.