Cody Johnson could not have chosen a better way to erase the memories of a tough rookie campaign. The Atlanta Braves first-round draft pick in 2006 homered in his first at-bat of the year, and his hot start set the stage for what would become a remarkable season.
Johnson put together one of the finest all-around campaigns in recent memory for the Danville Braves, earning him MiLB.com's Short-Season Offensive Player of the Year Award.
"Well, we had a good year as a team and obviously I did, individually," he said. "We were able to set a club-record for wins [48-20], and thankfully I was able to be a big part of that."
The 20-year-old outfielder batted .305 while leading the Appalachian League in home runs (17), total bases (153), extra-base hits (40) and slugging percentage (.630). He also ranked second in RBIs (57) and tied for third in doubles (18) and triples (five).
"I told myself that in my first at-bat, I was going to swing at the first good pitch I saw," said Johnson. "When I connected [on the home run], it felt great and it set the tone for the rest of the season."
After hitting just .184 with one homer in 32 games with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Braves last season, Johnson immediately served notice that 2007 would be different. He collected nine multi-hit games and hit safely in 15 of his first 18 contests while driving in 18 runs to help the defending-champion Braves get off to another quick start.
"I started off well last year, but then I got hurt and I could never get back into the swing of things," said the native of Panama City, Fla. "I dwelled on my struggles all offseason, and I came out this year with a purpose. I told myself to go out there every day and play hard knowing what I can do and that if I was healthy, my talents would take over."
A mid-July swoon in which Johnson went 2-for-32, including an 0-for-23 stretch, dropped his average from .342 to a season-low .252. However, a 3-for-4, two-homer game on July 23 against Kingsport got him back on the right track, setting the stage for a scorching final month of the season in which he hit .348 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs in 30 games.
"I was just pressing in July, it's as easy as that," he said. "We had a lot of guys moving to other levels, and it made me feel like I had to carry the team. In August, I was able to step back and just play my game. I kept things as simple as possible, just one AB at a time and it worked."
Johnson went hitless in his first two games in August but erupted for two home runs and a career-high five RBIs in a 12-5 victory over Greeneville on Aug. 4. It was the second of four multi-homer games the left fielder would achieve in 2007, all but one coming in the final month. The offensive outburst was part of season-high 11-game hitting streak from Aug. 3 to Aug. 14. His first career four-hit game on Aug. 20 pushed his average back over .300, where it would stay for the remainder of the year.
Unfortunately for Johnson and his teammates, the season would come to a disappointing finish at the hands of the Elizabethton Twins, who dethroned Danville to win the Appalachian League championship. Johnson went just 1-for-5 with a double and two walks in the two-game sweep.
"The postseason was fun, but it's a completely different feeling knowing what the stakes are," he said. "As a team, we were just never able to get anything going in Game 1 [a 2-0, 10-inning loss which included a 1:30 rain delay], and we struggled again in Game 2 and that was that. Still, [the postseason] was certainly a reward for us as a team after the season we had and I'm just glad that I was able to be a part of it."