By STEVE KRAH
It’s hard not to stand out when you are 6-foot-6. But Ty Johnson did little to rise above as a baseball pitcher until his junior year at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis.
Johnson entered high school in the fall of 2016 at 5-10. By the end of freshman year he was 6-2. By the close of his sophomore year in 2018 he was 6-6.
“I got hurt a bunch freshman and sophomore year,” says Johnson. “I had growing pains. My body wasn’t ready for it. I was goofy and awkward.
“My junior year I got a little more athletic.”
The right-hander saw some varsity action as a sophomore for Richard Winzenread’s Wildcats then was a regular as a junior in the spring of 2019. He went 3-0 in seven games with an 0.88 earned run average. In 39 2/3 innings, he struck out 60 and walked 20.
That fall he played for Team Indiana, coached by Phil Wade and Blake Hibler.
The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season — which would have been Johnson’s senior campaign.
The lanky hurler attracted interest from scouts leading into the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but was not selected.
By this time he had impressed enough to be signed by Ball State University. An injury kept him out of early action, but he did get into three games for the Ben Norton-coached Local Legends of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
At Ball State, Johnson got to work with Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Larry Scully.
“He trusts me,” says Johnson of Maloney. “He’s always believed in me. He has my back.
Johnson and Scully have grown close.
“He checks in all the time,” says Johnson. “We work on my weaknesses. He’s brutally honest. It’s what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.
“I respect that.”
Scully has helped Johnson develop a longer delivery to take advantage of his length.
“I can maximize my velo potential,” says Johnson. “It will pay off in the long run.”
In the spring of 2021, Johnson made 15 mound appearances (11 in relief) and went 4-2 with a 6.83 ERA. In 27 2/3 innings, he recorded 34 strikeouts and 14 walks.
In the fall, there was work on a glide step to help in holding baserunners. In-season, there was an emphasis on developing an off-speed pitch and curveball.
His three pitches thrown from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot are a four-seam fastball (which sits at 91 to 93 mph and has reached 94), a change-up and curve.
By the spring, 195-pounder Johnson’s vertical leap was up to 36 inches.
“I’m pretty fast off the mound,” says Johnson. “I’m a lot more athletic than people think.
“This summer I got a lot better at fielding my position.”
Johnson says he would rather be a starting pitcher. He knows there were several on the BSU staff that had earned their way into that role last spring.
“I was suited to be a reliever freshmen year,” says Johnson. “I had no problems with it. I helped them best out of the bullpen.
“I prefer starting. That’s what Ball State wants me to do next year.”
Back in the CSL in 2021 — this time with the Caleb Fenimore-coached Bag Bandits — Johnson pitched in nine games (all starts) and went 5-1 with one complete game and a 2.03 earned run average. In 48 2/3 innings, he fanned 66 and walked 17. He posted a 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and opponents hit .176 against him.
Johnson was named College Summer League at Grand Park Pitcher of the Year. The Bag Bandits beat the Snapping Turtles in the league championship game.
The Ball State staff wanted Johnson to play in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League on the East Coast, but the pitcher opted to stay home. He trained in his basement or local gym and was allowed by Winzenread to do his throwing at Lawrence North with Bag Bandits teammate and 2021 LNHS graduate and University of Illinois recruit Cal Shepherd.
Academically, Johnson is undecided on his major. But he has declared Coaching as a minor.
“I could see me doing that the rest of my life,” says Johnson. “I would enjoy my time.”
Johnson was born in Rockwall, Texas, and moved with his family to the Lawrence Township area of Indianapolis when he was 2.
At 6, he played Coach Pitch at what is now Fall Creek Softball and Baseball. From 9U to 12U, he played travel ball for the Indiana Kodiaks, Indiana Mustangs and Oaklandon Youth Organization Bombers.
Johnson was with the Indiana Bulls from 13U to 17U. His head coaches were Tony Cookery, Ryan Bunnell, Dan Held and Troy Drosche.
Basketball was another sport for Johnson until seventh grade. He then decided to concentrate on baseball.
Ty (19) is the youngest of three children born to Rick and Lisa Johnson. There’s also Elle (24) and Pierce (22).
Salesman Rick played football in high school. Part-time receptionist Lisa played basketball.
Elle was born in Wisconsin where she was a high school swimmer. Pierce was born in Texas where he played high school basketball.