As we roll in to the 2016 season, we are very excited to start a series where we interview players in the Atlanta Braves minor leagues (and hopefully a few in the majors as well) about their journey to the Braves organization and what is on their minds going in to the season. From the top prospects to those just beginning to find their way in the Braves system, we are going to hear from a lot of the guys as they all pursue the same thing...a spot in the majors.
We are extremely fortunate that 2015 draftee LHP Chase Johnson-Mullins agreed to be the first of hopefully many such interviews. Drafted in the 13th round of the the 2015 draft, Chase posted a 2.81 ERA in 16 appearances for Danville in 2015. He sports an excellent 2-seam fastball that he pounds the strike zone which sets up his curve nicely. Although control has been an issue for Chase in the past, he made significant improvements with deception and pitch selection which resulted in more swings and misses towards the end of the season. SBN's own John Sickels named Chase as one of his ten best value picks in the 2015 due to his large 6'8 frame, pedigree as a highly regarded prospect out of high school, and high upside. Chase graciously agreed to be interviewed and its contents are below.
Chase Johnson-Mullins Interview
First, we really appreciate your time and hope your preparations for the season are going well. Introduce yourself to Braves fans for those who may not know you.
Well, I am Chase Johnson-Mullins and I'm from a small rural town in Bourbon County, Kentucky called Little Rock. I live on a cattle farm, and I have the best job in the world!
When did you start playing baseball? Did you play any other sports growing up?
Funny story, actually, how I got into baseball. I tried every sport as a kid. My mother knew I was athletic, so it was only a matter of time before I found the sport I loved. One day, my grandmother got the bright idea to sign me up for baseball, but my mother exclaimed that I was too young. So my grandmother signed me up to play Tee-Ball behind my mothers back!!! I also played one year of high school basketball. I loved it and took to it significantly well, but baseball has always been my favorite
*Laughs* Sounds like your grandmother is a pretty awesome lady
She's the best! And she may just be the craziest one in the family!! *laughs*
Were you a Braves fan growing up? If not, who were your idols growing up?
I actually did watch a lot of Braves baseball growing up. My Great-Grandmother (my grandmother's mom) was a huge Chipper Jones fan. So when my grandmother signed me up to play baseball, I played for the Braves! So my first team ever was the Braves, and I hope that they're my last as well. My idol on the mound was and still is Randy Johnson. He was such a competitor and had a bulldog attitude. As a hitter, I loved Mark McGwire. Although he did use PED's, he and Sammy Sosa were just so fun to watch.
So, you were drafted right out of high school by the Rangers I believe, but then you had Tommy John surgery and ended up being drafted out of Shelton St. last year. How did you change as a pitcher from your days in high school as opposed to when you were drafted?
Well, I was a 17 year old kid. I thought I was ready and thought I had it all figured out. But I in fact did not. After my surgery, I transferred to Walters State and only attended a Fall Semester. I didn't make the best of decisions, and chose to leave during the winter. After deciding I wanted to play baseball again, I got with a team called the Catawba Valley Stars in Hickory, North Carolina, and met a man named Marvin Speaks. He's very old school, and loud lol the man wanted to win. And he pushed me. He showed me what I had to do to play pro ball! Eventually I got a call from Bobby Sprowl at Shelton State, and shortly after began my fall semester there. I grew up a lot at Shelton State. I made friendships that I'll never forget, and I got serious about baseball.
Have you stayed in touch with Marvin since you were drafted?
Yes sir, I have. He's somebody that I definitely keep in touch with.
Lets talk about the draft a bit. Did you have any idea that the Braves were interested in you going in to the draft? How did you and your family react when you were drafted?
I hoped that they were interested. I remember meeting with them in the fall and telling myself, "Man, it'd be cool to wear the tomahawk." I grew up with a mom that loved to hold on to the sentimental things so them being the first team I ever played for and that same team drafting me was really cool for them. My mother is the Director of Dispatch in Montgomery County, Ky, and I was there with our friends and my mother was on the phone with my grandfather. I heard "Re-Draft Johnson..." And the whole place erupted!! I was just thrilled to know that I get to do what I love. Playing professional baseball has been a lifelong dream of mine. So, naturally, I was ecstatic to say the least.
What were your expectations in terms of what it was going to be like playing professional baseball? Did your first season meet those expectations or was it completely different?
Honestly, I was very nervous! But I was excited to take my first step. I tried my best to treat it as a learning process, but I soaked it in as much as possible as well. I had an absolute blast my rookie season. I also made some great friends as well.
You had a really strong first season with a 2.81 ERA in 16 games out of the bullpen. Do you feel like you made a lot of strides and adjustments during the season or did you do a lot of the same things you did while you were in school?
I definitely made some strides. I learned how to get in a rhythm and trust the players behind me a lot more. I took a lot of pressure off of myself. Those guys get paid to produce runs and play defense. So that definitely helped me throw more pitches in the zone and trust my defense on the field.
What is your approach to pitching? What pitch(es) do you rely on to get outs?
I love to be aggressive and challenge a hitter. I like to throw the inside fastball and the 0-2 curve in the dirt. I feel like batters expect you to work around them and to try and make good pitches. So I give them what they want, and it tends to throw them off guard at times. I like to throw my two seam fastball. It's a pitch that I definitely trust.
What sort of feedback have you gotten from coaches and the organization? Any goals or adjustments that they want you to make for the upcoming season?
I became really good friends with Rick Nadel who was the strength and conditioning coach in Danville, and we tried so hard to get weight off of me. I changed my diet, and I worked really hard. But in the process I just got stronger. I came to terms with the fact that I'm always gonna have a big body. I was told to work hard, stay active, and get stronger. And I definitely feel like I've done just that.
Who are the teammates you are closest to from this past season?
The guys that I got closest to are Grayson Jones, (who I actually played with at Shelton State and were housemates with), Ryan Lawler, Ben Libuda, Austin Riley, and Mike Soroka. Although I made a lot more friends than just them, those are the guys that I spent a lot of time with.
Is there anything else you want Braves fans to know about you?
It's an honor to be a part of the Chop Nation and it'd be an honor to represent the Braves in Atlanta!! Thank you Eric for having me!!