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Working the angles to make the Angels
Former Cougar outfielder Kyle Johnson continues his baseball career beyond Pullman
Published 5/22/2013 6:00:00 AM
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Minor league outfielder Kyle Johnson remembered his heartbeat quickening after Burlington Bees manager Jamie Burke called Johnson into his office to tell him the news.

Burke shook Johnson’s hand and said he had just been presented with the Los Angeles Angels’ Minor League Player of the Month award for April.

"Confidence is enormous for me," Johnson said. "Afterwards, I called my scout, Jason Ellison and Donnie (Marbut), and I wanted to include everyone that got me that spot."

After playing baseball for four years at WSU, Johnson moved to Orem, Utah in 2012 to play with the Orem Owlz, a rookie league affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

After Johnson led the Pac-12 Conference with 17 stolen bases for the Cougars during the 2012 season, the Angels selected Johnson as the 19th pick in the 25th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft that June.

In 33 games for the Owlz, Johnson recorded a .289 batting average, including 12 RBI and 18 runs.

This April, Johnson received a new assignment, moving up in the Angels system to play for the Burlington Bees, the team’s Single-A affiliate, in Burlington, Iowa.

After 38 games with the Bees this season, Johnson leads the team with a batting average of .314, including 14 RBI and 26 stolen bases.

"I pride myself on my speed," Johnson said. "This year, I’m trying to understand the pitcher and not have any at bats slip away."

Johnson said playing baseball at WSU taught him to approach every at bat as an independent event and have an even keel mindset during the season.

Johnson also said facing several Pac-12 pitchers including Trevor Bauer from UCLA, now playing in the Cleveland Indians minor league system, and Mark Appel from Stanford prepared him well for the minors.

"Playing at WSU, you choose to be confident," Johnson said. "I’m not a big money guy, but I’m a grinder and I’m playing for my life."

Johnson said he does not analyze his stats often because players can talk themselves out of being confident. His fiancée, Susan Wilson, gives him brief updates on his progress.

Wilson said Johnson does not look at his stats during the season because he wants to be in the moment, although she said he occasionally sees glimpses of his stats during at bats.

"The game has got harder for him and the level of play is increasing," Wilson said. "The best thing for him is to keep moving up."

Wilson said Johnson’s schedule is normal, but he starts later in the day than his other teammates. Johnson gets to Community Field, where the Bees play their home games, around noon and gets home around midnight, she said.

In addition, Wilson said Johnson gets more confident with every swing and she was impressed with how hard he worked during the offseason.

"His approach is something he takes very seriously," Wilson said. "When he got caught stealing for the first time this season, it was a tough night."

In the past Johnson said he had been in the one, two and nine positions of the batting lineup.

However, Johnson said he has also filled the three-hole position for the Bees in several games this year.

"It’s a different adjustment hitting with guys on base," Johnson said. "You see more breaking balls and fastballs. You might see one to two good pitches."

Johnson said it is special to wear the Burlington jersey and he believes he can make it to the big leagues if he continues to work hard.

"Iowa is a blessing and no one can take that from me," Johnson said.

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