"It's actually really exciting. I've always wanted to play here," Johnson said. "I've sat in the stands and sat behind the plate, but I've never played on the field. It was really exciting waking up this morning. It makes me smile."
Johnson was one of 38 high school prospects from Northern California, Nevada and Washington invited to participate in Sunday's Major League Baseball's Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) Premier event. The PDP is a joint venture between MLB and USA Baseball created to identify and develop teenage prospects leading up to the 2018 and 2019 Drafts, with Sunday's event being one of the last of the 20 hosted across the country this year.
All of the prospects went through a variety of tests, with an athletic assessment including a broad jump, a vertical leap, a 30-yard dash and agility drills. They also had performance vision screening, infield/outfield practice and a wood-bat batting practice with a swing analysis. The day ended with an eight-inning game.
"Identification is paramount to what we do. High school players are the lifeblood of our business as amateur scouts," one scout said. "Whenever you get a chance to see a group of players work out on a field, especially in a Major League ballpark and on a Major League field, you really get a good judge of what the raw power is, what their body types look like on a Major League field, if they look like they'll belong."
With the 2017 MLB Draft having completed a few weeks ago, all eyes now look ahead to 2018 and 2019. For a scout in attendance, the chance to see kids two years ahead of their Draft-eligible year is a rare opportunity he couldn't pass up.
"Anytime we get a chance to see the ones that're two years away, you get a sense to see how their bodies will mature over the next two years by the time they're ready for the draft," the scout said. "To have a basic tryout or workout in a big league ballpark is incomparable to anything else we can hope for."
All told, around three dozen pro scouts and college coaches were in attendance Sunday. They saw the right-handed-swinging Johnson blast an opposite-field triple, two-hopping the ball off the wall near the 388-foot marker in right-center. The Cal State-Fullerton commit also stole a base and hit a homer to left field in batting practice.
"He's got tools, quick hands, good extension, a strong approach," one scout said of the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Johnson. "He looks like he belongs. He has a good demeanor and he carries himself like a pro."
On the mound, 2018 right-hander Dennis Boatman shone. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder started off the game with a 1-2-3 inning and struck out two, including one swinging with a curveball. He also got batters to swing and miss with his 88-91 mph fastball, with a scout commenting that Boatman has good rise on the fastball, has a loose arm and is projectable.
Committed to UCLA, Boatman said he felt Sunday was a great opportunity for him to show how he'd respond to playing on a Major League field against top-level competition.
"It's great to get out here and watch the best dudes in NorCal and get to see how well I compare to the best of the best around," Boatman said. "I get to see what I need to work on to stand out to everybody else around me."
Boatman will be participating in USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C., June 27-July 1. But getting the chance to participate in one of the three PDP events to take place in a Major League stadium will be tough to top.
"This is a goal, making it on this field. Playing here now represents what I want to do in the future," Boatman said. "All of the big league guys, this is exactly what they do and who they are. For me, being out here is special."