GSA Spotlight: Dallas Baptist's Ryan Johnson

Photo credit: Eddie Kelly

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – It didn’t take long for Dan Heefner to figure out that Ryan Johnson was going to be one of the more unique pitchers he has ever coached.

If you go into the archives and look at the long list of premier pitchers who have entered and exited the DBU program, you’ll come away extremely impressed with the arms the Patriots have been graced with over the years. But righthanded pitcher Ryan Johnson is very different from most, and he might just be the best of them all.

Johnson, an imposing 6-foot-6, 215-pounder, had already been having a special 2024 campaign before the weekend series at Sam Houston last weekend. Johnson, ranked as one of the Top 50 college prospects in the upcoming MLB draft, had dominated most of the teams on DBU’s schedule. But no start he had to date — especially against a team of Sam Houston’s caliber — was impressive as the one he put together last week in Huntsville.

It was a work of art. The stuff was elite. The fastball was explosive, the cutter was filthy and the slider, a pitch that already had garnered a reputation as one of college baseball’s best offerings was, you guessed it, outstanding as well in a victory over Bearkats.

Every box that could’ve been checked for Johnson in this start was checked. He was the elite of the elites, and it’s a development that has DBU dreaming of a trip to the College World Series in a few months.

“The way Ryan Johnson threw for us on Friday was outstanding,” Heefner said after Sunday’s game in Huntsville. “I feel like he has been our guy for two years now — but he just seems to be stepping up to a whole new level these days. He was so impressive on Friday night.

“To go complete game against a team like Sam Houston — a good team — just shows how good he is,” he added. “He’s got elite stuff, but the ability to pitch and move it around and do different things with his offerings to the point where hitters have no idea what is coming, that’s a special trait to have. He was really good, and frankly, it was just a really good game to watch.”

Johnson’s dominance came against a scrappy Sam Houston club that isn’t easy to shut down from an offensive standpoint. The righty had 12 strikeouts and had only thrown 80 pitches through seven innings, and he retired 16 hitters in a row at one point. Furthermore, he finished the evening with 15 strikeouts and just one walk in a complete game performance. The only hitter he had a lick of trouble with was fellow premier prospect and catcher Walker Janek, who hit a double off him and walked once.

As impressive as his numbers were against the Bearkats, the stuff caught the attention of our own David Seifert and plenty of others. Johnson has such an unorthodox look as he kind of hunches over before delivering the baseball in rapid fashion. Johnson doesn’t waste any time between pitches, and probably works faster than any pitcher I’ve seen in recent memory. As for the stuff, he was anywhere from 93-95 mph and up to 96-97 mph with his fastball against the Bearkats, peppering all quadrants of the zone with strikes. He also showed a filthy low-80s slider that was deadly against both right and lefthanded hitters, while the upper-80s cutter has been a terrific addition to his arsenal so far this season.

“The big difference for Ryan right now is he’s throwing that cutter now,” Heefner said. “When he gets into trouble with the fastball and slider, it’s not just here let’s go back to the fastball and slider, RJ says here comes the cutter.

“That’s been a very big development for him, especially against lefthanded hitters. It’s a different look for sure and it has been good for him on both sides of the plate.”

Johnson’s fastball also has improved. Heefner made the point that in the past, the talented righthander’s fastball was more of an offering with running action to it. However, as of late, the fastball has had more sinking action and developed into an even better pitch.

“The evolution in Ryan’s stuff has been pretty evident, and it all kind of starts with his fastball,” Heefner said. “He’s sinking the fastball better than ever this year. Last year, I thought it was more of a running fastball. His velocity has always been good no matter what, but this year, it’s just got a lot more sink to it.

“As a result, it’s allowed his other stuff to really play up more,” he added. “The sweeping slider was great last year, and if you look at the results of it, it was one of the best pitches in college baseball. He’s just executing it a little better this season. All of those things together equal a guy who’s really good at his craft.”

Overall, Johnson is having a monster 2024 campaign, which comes at a perfect time amid his draft year. He has a 1.93 ERA and has struck out 64 batters with only five walks. Yes, only five walks. Teams are hitting Johnson at a .193 clip. By comparison, as a freshman, the righty had a 4.30 ERA in 58.2 innings of work with just 47 strikeouts. And last season, the righty had a 4.43 ERA in 87.1 innings of work, along with 116 strikeouts and 22 walks. The difference between last year and this season? The OBA difference is 46 points lower.

Time will tell if Johnson projects as a starter or reliever at the next level. Mechanics and supposed stress on the arm suggests a reliever profile. But scouts, including our own David Seifert, feel like there’s plenty of potential for Johnson to start at the next level. If that’s the case, his stock could continue to soar as the draft continues.

For now, he’s firmly focused on helping Dallas Baptist reach the College World Series for the first time in program history, while also sticking to his ultra-unique approach.

“Man, everything about RJ is just different, but that is what makes him special,” Heefner said. “I think that’s really cool about him. He’s very comfortable with who he is and how he does it. A lot of guys go out there and think they must go throw exactly like Max Scherzer or someone else — RJ just wants to throw like RJ.

“A year or so ago we worked on a traditional leg lift delivery, but RJ thought his delivery helped him gain more momentum when he pitched, so that’s the route we went. He’s a coachable kid, but he’s also very confident and knows what’s needed for him to success at the highest of levels.

“That’s really what makes him one of the best.” is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.