Q&A with Yankees 31st Rnd Pick Kevin Johnson

Johnson is a sinker-ball pitcher

We sat down with Yankees' 31st round pick, Kevin Johnson, for a draft day Q&A session. A right-handed pitcher and current junior at the University of Illinois, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder in 2012. Find out what the 21-year-old had to say about his immediate baseball plans, how he feels about someday pitching in pressure-filled New York, and much more.

PinstripesPlus.com: Tell us what is going through your mind after being selected by a team like the Yankees.

Kevin Johnson: I was freaking out. I was really pumped. It's my first time ever being drafted. I honestly thought I was going to go a little bit higher than the 31st round, so I was kind of getting discouraged at that point when we passed the 20th round because I really didn't think I was even going to sign if it was past the 15th round. I was kind of just chilling in my kitchen and then all of a sudden I heard my name on the computer. My stomach dropped and I was so happy. To be drafted, especially by the Yankees, is a great honor. It's definitely a great organization to be a part of and I couldn't be happier.

PinstripesPlus.com: Were you surprised it was the Yankees that selected you? Had you and the Yankees talked much before the draft?

Johnson: The Yankees were one of the teams I thought I was going to go to. The teams that I really thought had a good interest in me were the Mariners, Cubs and Yankees. I talked to pretty much all the other teams, but the ones that I felt showed the great interest in me were those three teams. Being selected by the Yankees, out of those three teams, the Yankees were the team I really wanted to go to. So, like I said, I'm just really happy the Yankees took me.

PinstripesPlus.com: Do you have any idea what the Yankees' organization or farm system is like?

Johnson: I have a little bit of an idea. Talking with them, I kind of did a little research prior to the draft just to see where their teams are at and all the stuff. I kind of got a good idea. Obviously I'm not going to really know until I start playing and get acclimated and get to know the coaching staff.

PinstripesPlus.com: What type of pitches do you throw and at what speeds? Give us a scouting report please - what are your strengths and what do you need to work on the most?

Johnson: I throw a two and four-seam fastball. I get good run on my two-seam. And then I also throw a hard breaking ball. It's more of a curveball than a slider. I also throw a circle-changeup, which is probably my best offspeed pitch at this point because I throw it the most. I just go fastball, changeup and kind of save my breaking ball for later. My fastball is probably 89-92 miles per hour, hit 93 every once in a while. Changeup is probably about 78-80, and breaking ball is 76-80. I'd say my strength is I'm very competitive. That's what I pride myself in, just being very competitive. I go out there every game and I expect to throw a complete game...I just try to get quick outs. I'm not a strikeout pitcher anymore. I used to be in high school, but obviously that's a whole different ball game. But now I just work on getting ground balls, keep my pitch count short, which is what I try to do being a starter. That's what I've been at Illinois, a starter. The strikeouts might not always be there for me, but I'm going to be that guy that gets deep into games and gets wins. My weakness is sometimes sometimes leaving my fastball up in the zone. That's when I tend to get hit around a little bit. As long as I keep my fastball low, I can get swings and misses and most of the time, just ground balls because I get good sink on my two-seam.

PinstripesPlus.com: Did you have a favorite team growing up or a favorite player?

Johnson: Growing up, my favorite team was the White Sox. They still are, I'm not going to lie. But I never had any regrets about the Yankees. It's not like I didn't like the Yankees. It's just I never really followed them as much as I did the White Sox. Two of my favorite players are Jake Peavy and Josh Beckett. Justin Verlander of late too just because I like his skillset a lot. He's someone I definitely try to model myself after because of his work ethic.

PinstripesPlus.com: Who would you compare your stuff to at the Major League level so Yankees' fans can get an idea of what you're like on the mound? And why?

Johnson: I'd say Derek Lowe because he has a good sinker. He doesn't have overpowering stuff but he has that good run on his fastball where he is able to get a bunch of ground balls.

PinstripesPlus.com: What would you say is your best moment in baseball and why?

Johnson: I'd say winning both the Big Ten regular season and tournament championship last year just because of the fashion we did it in. We were in a run with Michigan State going into the last weekend [before the Big Ten Tournament]. We had to sweep Indiana and then Northwestern had to win at least one game against Michigan State for us to [win the regular season Big Ten championship]. We had a walk-off home run on Friday night, Saturday we had a home run in the eighth inning that ended up winning the game, and then on Sunday we found out halfway through the game that Northwestern beat Michigan State one game, so as long as we won that game, we're going to win the Big Ten. It came down to the ninth inning and our four-hitter hit a walk-off home run to win it. It was probably the most fun, most grinding three games I've ever been a part of. It was awesome to kind of have that. And then to get us the number one seed in the [Big Ten] tournament and then roll through the tournament, went into the regional, ended up getting to the regional championship. I've never been a part of anything quite like that before.

PinstripesPlus.com: Are you looking to sign quickly and get your professional career started right away?

Johnson: At this point, it's kind of 50-50. I said my cutoff going into the draft was going to be the 15th round. But at this point, where I was taken, I talked to Steve Lemke. He is [the Yankees] area scout that looked at me a lot. So what [the Yankees are] going to do is kind of like a draft-and-follow. I'm going out to Rochester, Minnesota for my summer team in the Northwoods League. And I'm going to pitch for about 2-3 weeks. They're going to have some cross-checkers come out and look at me to evaluate me more. It wasn't like a gamble or anything, but Steve said that he wanted me to get the best opportunity because he's come to a ton of my games this year and he knows that I can be a starter in the organization. And then I guess they'll make me an offer as far as money goes from there. If I do sign, it's probably going to be more towards early July.

PinstripesPlus.com: Do you think the pressures of pitching in New York might be a problem?

Johnson: Not at all, to be honest. I love pitching in pressure situations. That's what I live for. I think it would definitely be a different atmosphere, pitching for the Yankees with everyone being a diehard Yankees fan. I like that pressure. I like having a team on my back in some situation, and then if I blow it, at least I gave it my best. I've always been the kind of guy that likes the pressure. It would definitely be stressful in a way, but that's the kind of stress I like and live for.

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