By CONOR NICHOLL
Hays Larks right-handed pitcher Chase Johnson has talked with several Major League Baseball teams and worked out for the St. Louis Cardinals in the last few weeks and should be selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft that starts Tuesday.
Johnson, though, is taking a relaxed approach to the proceedings.
"What is going to happen is going to happen," Johnson said after the Larks' victory against the Denver Cougars on Saturday night. "I can't control anything right now."
Johnson and shortstop Sean Wilson are the two Larks currently on the roster that could likely be selected by a professional team this week. While Larks manager Frank Leo said "there is no doubt" Johnson will be drafted, Wilson's chances are less certain. Devyn Rivera, the ace pitcher for Chandler Gilbert (Ariz.) Community College, is a pro prospect, but has not yet reported to Hays.
The draft covers 50 rounds and includes players from the high school and college ranks.
Last year, Larks catcher Eric Roof, a Michigan State University product, was picked by the Tigers in the 46th round but didn't sign. Hays High School graduate and Larks pitcher Brock Nehls was a possible selection but wasn't picked. He signed with an independent team shortly after the draft.
This season, Johnson is a pro prospect after two dominating collegiate seasons and an impressive two summers with the Larks.
"Hopefully I will get picked up," he said. "You never know how it is going to work out."
Johnson pitched for Central Arizona Community College as a freshman before he came to Hays. The right-hander, who can throw a 90 to 94 miles per hour fastball, was part of a strong back end of the Larks' bullpen.
Helped by Hays pitching coach Keith Harper, he went 1-0 with a 2.94 earned-run average and struck out 13.6 batters per nine innings, sixth-best in Larks history.
Johnson delivered several fine outings, including a save against Liberal at Larks Park when he struck out the side in the ninth inning on 12 pitches.
Johnson was moved to the rotation at year's end and fashioned eight innings of one-run, two-hit ball in an elimination game that started at 4 a.m. at the National Baseball Congress World Series. Johnson was named the Jayhawk League's No. 8 prospect by Baseball America. This spring, Johnson attended South Mountain (Ariz.) Junior College.
He posted a 3.63 ERA and a 35/14 strikeout to walk rate in 22 1/3 innings.
"It was a decent spring. I started out a little slow and worked my way up," he said. "My first five games weren't as good as what I should have been throwing. My velocity was down, but then it picked up."
During the spring, Johnson threw for the Cardinals, a workout that he labeled "pretty good." Like Roof in 2008, Johnson also has thought about his contract and wants a fair signing bonus from a team after the draft.
"I am not just going to take anything," Johnson said.
In the meantime, Johnson has pitched two innings this summer for Hays. All six outs have been strikeouts.
"Just throwing the two-seam (fastball)," he said. "Slider I think has become better. What I learned (from Harper) last summer, I still had that in my head."
Leo could use Johnson in the bullpen or rotation, but some of the maneuvering is predicated on the draft results and Johnson's decision.
"He still has the same stuff," Leo said. "He was very good for us at the end of the game (and) when we started (using) him as a starter.
"It is still a possibility, but we can't throw him out there as a starter yet. He has to get that pitch count built up and build that endurance."
Wilson, a sophomore from the two-year College of San Mateo (Calif.), was a late signee for the Larks but has enjoyed a terrific start. He arrived Friday afternoon after nearly 12 hours of travel and is 7-for-9 with four doubles.
On Saturday, Wilson went 5-for-5 with three doubles, three stolen bases and a superb defensive play deep in the hole at shortstop.
"Sean is a great player," Leo said. "The search is over, and I really look forward to watching him play the rest of the summer."
Wilson was named first team all-conference after he batted a team-high .413 with 31 steals in the spring. His future is uncertain. Currently, Wilson doesn't have a college for next year, though Loyola Marymount (Calif.) is a possibility.
"Some of the schools that I have been talking to said we are waiting on the draft to see what opens up money-wise," he said.
The draft could affect Wilson, too. The San Diego Padres saw him play in the fall and followed him through the fall and spring season. A week before he came to Hays, Wilson went to the Padres' workout day.
"I had a pretty good (spring) season and kept talking to him," Wilson said, referring to a Padres scout. "He said to be by my phone on draft day because there is some potential late-round stuff. We will see. He said that he will possibly take a chance and call me over the summer, and maybe like a draft-and-follow. I don't know. I am just kind of waiting to see on everything right now, school and everything."