By John Shimer
---- — The life and times of Georgetown’s Michael Johnson have been pretty incredible over the past five days.
The lefty pitcher known as “Silky” dating back to his days when he led the Newburyport Nor’easters American Legion team to the state title several years back graduated from Dartmouth on Sunday.
In addition to earning a 3.43 GPA and a degree from a top Ivy League school, he also found out in the same 24-hour period that the Los Angeles Dodgers liked him enough to take him in the 14th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with the 424th overall pick.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and I’m just really happy to get the opportunity,” said Johnson, who was the ace of a pitching staff that finished with the 15th best staff ERA in college baseball. “Still trying to figure (what’s happening and where I’m going). I find out soon what the deal is, probably Arizona for a little bit.
“I’m really excited. It’s just going to be another period of transition like when I was going to Dartmouth for the first time,” said the Georgetown native, who played for Brooks School in high school. “I’m looking forward to keep getting better and working with some great pitching coaches and hopefully keep improving.”
The crowning achievement to a historic career at Dartmouth, Johnson finished off his senior year like a true ace going 7-0 with 47 strikeouts against just 13 walks, and just a .208 opponents against batting average in 59.1 innings of work for a career best 1.82 ERA. For his career Johnson finished 15-2 (the second-best winning percentage of any Dartmouth pitcher) with a 3.67 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 162 innings of work. He never lost a decision in Ivy League play. Those accomplishments combined with his work in the classroom as an economics major earned him a place on the Academic All-District team.
According to his coach Bob Whalen, it was just the second time in his 23 years a pitcher finished off a perfect season with a minimum of five-plus decisions for the year.
“He had a terrific season and an excellent career by any objective measure,” Whalen said. “He improved each year, and we tell the kids all the time, ‘We don’t care what kind of talent you have or where you come from. When you make the jump from high school to Division 1 baseball, it’s a big jump.’ And particularly coming from a small private high school to make the adjustment to Division 1 baseball, the schedule we play, if you look at our opponents, we play a very aggressive schedule and always have. But Mike has improved each year and I give him a ton of credit.”
Johnson seemed to put it all together when it mattered most during his senior year, including a career-best 12 strikeout performance over North Dakota State in the Big Green’s 6-0 win, as well as a one-hit effort over eight scoreless innings against Cornell in a nationally televised on Fox College Sports.
“I think everything just started to click. I worked on flexibility in the offseason trying to gain some strength in my legs. I think that just helped me get stronger and repeat my delivery and just be able to be more consistent,” said the hard-throwing lefty.
“I think it was a little period of transition where you’re not facing high school hitters anymore, you’re facing a lot better guys, and it takes that adjustment where you just have to be better. You can’t miss spots, you can’t throw pitches down the middle and get away with it,” said Johnson. “There was period of adjustment and you have to focus more on the team.”
“You just can’t have the success he’s had in school and in baseball without doing the right things,” said Whalen. “He’s a hard-working kid, very much a team guy, great sense of humor, just a good kid to be around, and I enjoyed coaching him. From a baseball perspective, every time I gave him the ball, he put us in a position where we had a chance to win, and that’s really all you can ask from your starters.
“It wasn’t just one thing,” said Whalen of Johnson’s breakthrough season. “He came back with more confidence, better mound presence and body language, and he’s improved each year. I think the last couple of summers were big contributing factors; the more success he had the more he really realized he had the ability to not just pitch at this level, but really have success at this level. Right from the beginning of the year right from the first day of the fall, he went out there like he expected to do well and he certainly did.”
As far as continued success, Whalen believes Johnson has the stuff and the work ethic be one of the one-percenters — the elite few who can make all the way to The Show.
“I’ve been at this a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of kids that have played professionally,” said the Big Green coach. “Of all the guys that play pro baseball, only the top 1 percent play a day in the big leagues. You want the best for kids. Does he have the ability? There’s no doubt in my mind that he does. He’s earned this opportunity and hopefully stays healthy, which he’s never had an issue here. Then he’ll just go out and keep moving up the system. They’re certainly looking for college pitchers to some degree because they’re more experienced and have proven that they’re still healthy. He’s worked very hard on strength and flexibility.
“I am very confident that he’s going to show the Dodger organization that he was deserving of this opportunity, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he keeps moving up their system because of his talent,” said Whalen. “I think he really wants to do this. Hopefully we’ll go and see him in Dodger Stadium someday.”