Georgia Tech right fielder Kel Johnson’s career is only eight games old. He hasn’t wasted time in beginning to realize the potential that coaches saw in recruiting him.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised that he’s off to a good start,” coach Danny Hall said. “I still think he’s a special hitter.”
Going into Friday's games, Johnson leads the ACC in home runs (four) and RBI (13). He’s hitting .361 with eight extra-base hits. He had a seven-game hitting streak to start the season before going hitless in a 7-1 loss to Auburn Tuesday. The Yellow Jackets (5-3 overall) will play Indiana State this weekend in a three-game series at Russ Chandler Stadium, the final weekend before starting ACC play.
His four home runs already match the team-leading four hit last year by A.J. Murray and Mott Hyde, helped by the flatter-seamed baseballs that the NCAA has instituted this season to increase offense.
“I’m just seeing what I have kind of seen in the fall and seen from him every day we practice, playing in the intra-squad games,” Hall said. “I think he’s a good player, but he’ll have his ups and downs, like a lot of people. Hopefully not too many downs, but it’s just part of the process.”
He has shown a knack for producing in late-inning situations. At Georgia Southern Feb. 17, with Tech down 4-1 with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, he crushed a breaking pitch off the left-field scoreboard for a grand slam, leading the Jackets to a 7-4 win over the Eagles.
“They kind of hung a breaking ball, and I’d actually said to (student assistant coach) Mike Nickeas before the pitch, I said, ‘If they throw him a breaking ball and they hang it, he’s going to hit a home run,’” Hall said. “It’s one of the things I’ve seen him do in practice with our guys when they don’t make good pitches on him.”
Against Florida International Feb. 21, he drew a bases-loaded walk in the top of the ninth to score the go-ahead run in what turned out to be a 14-9 win for the Jackets.
“I think he’s very mature in terms of his approach as a hitter and I think he’s a guy that adjusts not only in the at-bat but he’ll adjust throughout games how guys are trying to get him out,” Hall said.
Tech will play Friday at 4 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.