He missed more than a month with arm soreness, and wasn’t quite himself for a few weeks after he returned. But the pop on that Tyler Johnson fastball was still there, like wriggling bait in the waters of the Major League Baseball draft.
Tuesday, it was the Chicago White Sox who bit, taking the Gamecocks’ junior right-hander with the 147th overall selection in the draft’s fifth round. A power pitcher with a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s, USC’s closer finished this past season with a 2.39 earned run average and 10 saves.
His selection by the White Sox gives USC three players taken in the top five rounds of the draft since 2008, when when Justin Smoak of Goose Creek and Reese Havens of Sullivan’s Island were each selected in the first round, and James Darnell went in the second.
Monday, USC junior starter Clarke Schmidt was taken in the first round by the Yankees with the 16th overall pick, and junior starter Wil Crowe went in the second round with the 65th overall choice to Washington. All three pitchers are virtually certain to leave school with a year of eligibility remaining.
The signing-bonus slot value for Johnson’s pick is $339,000, though players may receive more or less as teams pool slot value money. Baseball America had rated the USC reliever as the No. 145 prospect in the draft.
Johnson’s body of work at USC clearly outweighed the injury and inconsistency he battled for much of his junior season. His 19 saves are eighth-most in program history, and his five-hit spot start in last year’s NCAA Tournament is a fixture in Gamecocks lore. A four-inning stint against Vanderbilt in this year’s SEC Tournament was his best outing of the season.
USC also likely lost a signee Monday when catcher Luis Campusano was taken in the second round as the 39th overall pick of the Pardes. But neither shortstop Noah Campbell of Raleigh or outfielder Kyle Jacobsen of Acworth, Ga. — rated by Baseball America as the No. 111 and 153 prospects, respectively — were taken Tuesday, raising hopes they may end up in Columbia.
South Carolina will be watching several position players Wednesday, when the draft concludes with rounds 11-40. Sophomore second baseman L.T. Tolbert, junior shortstop Madison Stokes, junior third baseman Jonah Bride and junior outfielder Alex Destino are all draft-eligible, and senior relievers Reed Scott and Josh Reagan may also go in later rounds.