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Braves' pick flies under radar

Johnson prized by Atlanta for pitch-calling, intelligence
June 17, 2007
OMAHA -- North Carolina's Benji Johnson didn't get the publicity that other catchers received after getting selected in the First-Year Player Draft earlier this month.

With all the talk about Georgia Tech's Matt Wieter and Mississippi State's Ed Easley, Johnson seemed to have fallen a bit under the radar.

He's even gotten a bit overlooked this week during the College World Series, what with Easley [compensation round, Diamondbacks] and Oregon State's Mitch Canham [compensation round, Padres] playing at Rosenblatt Stadium. As far as catching prospects go, Johnson clearly stacks up with any of the aforementioned backstops, so much so that the Braves think they pulled off one of the draft's bigger heists when they grabbed him in the 17th round.

Johnson was 2-for-4 with two RBIs in UNC's opening-round victory over Mississippi State, pushing his batting average to .264. He also has 28 RBIs, but his bat is secondary when it comes to what attracted the Braves.

"I've seen Benji since he was in high school," Atlanta area scout Billy Best said. "And the thing that sticks out the most when you watch him is that he can receive. He does a real good job catching. He's a good athlete with some power and a good arm. I think his makeup is a plus, too. With the makeup that he has, we're happy that we got him.

"He sure does call a pretty good game and he's pretty intelligent. He's caught some great pitchers at UNC [including 2006 first-round selections Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard]. He takes charge and shows leadership qualities from that standpoint."

Johnson, who shares catching duties with Tim Federowicz, has thrown out eight of 23 [34.7 percent] potential basestealers while allowing only three passed balls. Best said there are no plans to move Johnson out from behind the plate.

"I'm not saying he couldn't do anything else, but that [catching] is basically what he's done since high school," Best added. "Could he do something else? Maybe. But with the tools he shows behind the plate, why would you want to move him?"

SPEAKING OF CATCHERS: Grady Fuson, the Padres vice president of scouting and development, was also quite pleased to land Canham with the 57th pick in the draft. Canham is hitting .322 with nine homers and 54 RBIs after going 2-for-4 in Saturday's opening-round victory against Cal State-Fullerton.

"We think he's very polished defensively," Fuson said. "He has good hands, decent arm strength and he's a threat offensively. There are things we know we want to play with mechanically in his lower half. Otherwise, I've heard nothing but good things about his makeup and leadership skills from [OSU coach] Pat Casey and our scouts. I'm excited to get the kid."

CARDS REBOUND: Louisville continued its impressive offensive showing, this time coupling it with a strong pitching performance on Sunday in defeating Mississippi State, 12-4, in an elimination game. MSU ended its season at 38-22.

Louisville pounded out 18 hits and has 33 while scoring 22 runs in two CWS games. Chris Dominguez [three RBIs] had a pair of long home runs, while Isaiah Howes [two RBIs] and Daniel Burton [three RBIs] had three hits apiece for the Cards, who were ahead, 8-0, after four innings.

Louisville totaled four homers, marking the fifth time it has hit at least three homers in the NCAA tournament.

Justin Marks pitched 5 1/3 innings to improve to 9-2. He fanned five, allowed five hits and three runs. He took a Mitch Moreland comebacker off his left knee in the sixth. He collapsed onto the ground, writhing in pain with what was later diagnosed as a bruised knee. Marks was able to continue but was pulled three batters later.

Brandon Turner paced the Bulldogs with two hits and three RBIs.

RICE MOVES ON: Rice blasted North Carolina early Sunday night and coasted to an 14-4 victory in second-round action at Rosenblatt Stadium. The victory means the Owls will be off until Wednesday, when they will face the winner of Tuesday's elimination game between Louisville and the Tar Heels.

The Owls broke the game open with a six-run second inning. Brian Friday [3rd round, Pirates] had a two-run double in the inning. Joe Savery, Philadelphia's top pick in the draft, added an RBI single. Rice has scored 29 runs on 33 hits through two games.

Savery [11-1] also pitched six-plus innings, striking out four and walking three.

UNC established a CWS record by using eight pitchers. Catcher Tim Federowicz mopped up in the ninth to set the record.

TEAM FIRST: Louisville's Logan Johnson [20th round White Sox] continued his Omaha assault Sunday afternoon, bashing his third homer in two games, a two-run shot in the first inning that put the Cards ahead for good. What was equally impressive was the sacrifice he put down in the fourth inning with runners on first and second and the Cards up, 5-0.

"Let it be known that I didn't give Logan the bunt sign," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. "I haven't given him the bunt sign all year. I think that was terrific, though. That's what we're all about. Logan did it on his own. It was a good time to do it. He wanted to help the team."

THIS AND THAT: Some Louisville totals through two games: Chris Cates [38th round, Twins], 4-for-10, two RBIs; Boomer Whiting [28th round, Nationals], 4-for-7, two RBIs, three walks, four runs scored; Logan Johnson 4-for-11, three homers, five RBIs, four runs; and Isaiah Howes [11th round, Yankees], 5-for-10, two RBIs. For Mississippi State, Ed Easley [compensation round, Diamondbacks], 2-for-9, one run scored; Mitch Moreland [17th round, Rangers], 4-for-8, a homer and two RBIs; Jeff Rea [18th round, Cubs], 4-for-8; Josh Johnson [16th round, Devil Rays], two innings, no earned runs, three strikeouts. Some Rice totals through two games: Brian Friday, 3-for-11, two RBIs and a run scored; Savery, 4-for-9, a homer, three RBIs, three runs scored and a victory; Tyler Henley [eighth round, Cardinals], 4-for-8, an RBI and five runs scored; Danny Lehmann [eighth round, Twins], 5-for-10, five runs, three RBIs; Cole St. Clair [seventh round, Indians] three scoreless IP, two strikeouts. ... And some UNC totals through two games: Josh Horton [second round, Athletics] four runs scored and an RBI; Reid Fronk [seventh round, Devil Rays], 2-for-5, one run and one RBI; Benji Johnson, 2-for-7, two RBIs.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for