Ole Miss freshman catcher Cooper Johnson was named to the watch list for the 2017 Johnny Bench Award, the Greater Wichita Sports Commission announced Thursday afternoon. Johnson is one of 85 catchers nominated for the award given annually to the top catcher in Division I baseball.
Johnson, the top-ranked catcher out of high school last season, has earned the starting nod behind the dish in his first season as a Rebel. Making 10 starts through the first 13 games of the season, the Mundelein, Illinois, native has thrown out five baserunners (three caught stealing, two pickoffs). With only seven attempted stolen bases against Ole Miss so far (second-fewest in the SEC), opponents have been wary of the freshman’s strong arm.
Despite being drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds, Johnson decided to continue his playing career, while earning an education, at Ole Miss. His draft stock is still high as D1Baseball.com tabbed him No. 31 on its national freshman prospect list. A high school All-American that was named the best player in the state of Illinois, Johnson was rated an MLB.com top-100 prospect among both college and high school players heading into last year’s draft. His prep career also includes winning a gold medal at the 18-and-under World Cup as a member of Team USA and playing in the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field.
The tradition of great catchers at Ole Miss is well known, especially over recent history. Stuart Turner won the Johnny Bench Award in 2013. One year later, Will Allen was an All-American catcher as a 2014 Johnny Bench Award finalist. As a first team All-SEC catcher, Henri Lartigue made the cut of semifinalists in 2016. With a coaching staff filled with guys who played the position, expectations of Rebel catchers are always lofty. Head coach Mike Bianco was a catcher at LSU, while assistant coaches Carl Lafferty and Mike Clement also started behind the plate during their playing days.
The watch list will be narrowed down to the semifinalists, whom will be announced May 17. Ballots will be sent to the national voting panel at the end of May for a vote to determine the three finalists. The finalists will be announced June 5. A final vote among the national committee will occur during the College World Series. All finalists will be brought to Wichita and the winner will be announced at the 20th Annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet on June 29, 2017.
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Courtesy of Ole Miss Sports
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