Chad Johnson has been a hit with the Burlington Royals -- and he figures his hitting will come around, too.
The 19-year-old catcher's knack for solid defensive work and calling games from behind the plate has created a positive vibe for the Appalachian League team.
Johnson called games for Galesburg (Ill.) High School, but he quickly found it's another level with a professional pitching staff. He has put an emphasis on that.
"I was really trying to work on calling the game," said Johnson, who's committed only one error in 34 starts at catcher. "You have to know each pitcher and know what pitches they can throw with conviction."
Johnson, who's wrapping up his first full cycle through a Minor League season, said he has a better understanding and appreciation for what it will take to move through the Royals organization.
"I think the Royals drafted me because of my defense," said Johnson, who hits left-handed. "I hope my hitting will come along. I've improved a lot with my hitting. The numbers don't show it."
But he has a growing number of admirers for his defensive prowess.
"I don't like him -- I love him behind the plate," Burlington manager Tommy Shields said. "And he's tough back there."
Johnson, checking in at 205 pounds, would like to keep his batting average considerably higher than his playing weight. A midseason surge at the plate helped accomplish that, but he won't take his mind off other responsibilities.
"As a catcher, defense is my first priority on the field," he said. "I'm calling the game. I'm controlling the game. Over the past couple of years, I've worked on defense. I continue to learn every day. It won't stop."
Starting pitcher Matt Tenuta came on board along with Johnson in the 2012 Draft. They connected right away.
"He calls really great games," Tenuta said. "There's not too many times I shake him [off]. … He does a great job remembering what I've done and knowing the hitters. Been through two seasons now, I trust him."
Johnson gave up a chance to play for Illinois State after he was a fifth-round selection. Following a season in the Arizona Rookie League, he said the stop in the Appalachian League seems to be the right situation.
With a full load of catching duties during extended spring training, Johnson said he'll know better how to make it through the grind of the 2014 season. He said he'll aim to gain strength in the offseason to help absorb the toll of a season.
"It's my first time through," Johnson said. "Next year should be really good."
Pushing for the playoffs: The Elizabethton Twins could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004 if they don't continue their late-season push. They were seven games out of a playoff spot and 10 games out of first place Aug. 10, but since then they've moved within two games of the top spot in the West Division. "It's a little uncharted territory, I guess," Elizabethton's Ray Smith, the league's all-time winningest manager, said of the prospects of missing the postseason. "The guys have been playing hard. They've given a good effort. We've been one tick away."
Turn on the lights: A game between the Princeton Rays and neighboring Bluefield Blue Jays was suspended in the fourth inning when the lights went out at Bowen Field in Bluefield, W.Va. It marked the final Bluefield outing for shortstop Dawel Lugo, who drove in a run and then was reassigned to Vancouver of the Northwest League. Bluefield held the league's best record at the time. "You have to continue to go out there and play like we have been playing," Blue Jays manager Dennis Holmberg told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
On the upswing: Pulaski Mariners outfielder Wilton Martinez has slugged two homers in his last three games to take the league lead with 11 long balls. The 19-year-old overtook Burlington first baseman Sam Bates, who was promoted to Class A Advanced Wilmington late last week. Martinez assumed the top spot despite going homerless his first eight games of the season.