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Johnson drafted by Cubs

Joe Hettler | Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Grant Johnson’s fall semester will be like most students’, but his spring will be different.

Johnson, the 66th overall pick in the 2004 Major League Baseball draft, signed a contract Aug. 13 to pitch for the Chicago Cubs and will travel to Mesa, Ariz. in the spring to prepare for his first pro season.

The righthander will be passing up his final two years of eligibility with the Irish to play for one of his favorite teams.

“It feels pretty good to be drafted by a hometown team,” said Johnson, who grew up in Burr Ridge, Ill.

Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri, said Johnson should succeed at the professional level.

“There’s no question in my mind Grant will be a Major League pitcher,” said Mainieri, who has had 40 players drafted during his 10 years as Irish coach. “He has all the attributes – size, arm strength, quality of pitches. But his best asset is that he’s a fierce competitor.”

Johnson compiled a 15-5 record and a 2.89 ERA in two seasons at Notre Dame. As a freshman, Johnson helped pitch the Irish to the College World Series. He was named to the Freshman All-American team and the USA National Team.

But Johnson couldn’t follow up his success after needing shoulder surgery and missing the entire 2003 season before returning to the team in 2004. Johnson was a first-team Big East selection after going 6-0 with a 1.87 ERA.

The 6-foot-6 starter was drafted in June, but delayed signing until August. He said the Cubs promised to get him signed, but were in no rush because Johnson was resting his surgically repaired right shoulder during the summer.

Since Johnson was the Cubs first pick of the draft, they were willing to give him more money than most second-round picks.

Contract talks may have been disrupted for other second-round picks had Johnson signed quickly with the Cubs for significantly more money than those drafted near him.

Johnson declined to reveal contract terms.

Johnson was one of five Notre Dame players drafted in June. Infielders Matt Macri (Colorado), Steve Sollman (Milwaukee) and Javi Sanchez (Minnesota) and pitcher Chris Niesel (Cleveland) have all started their professional careers in various minor league systems across the country.

“All that have signed are playing well,” Maineri said. “I think that reflects very well on the program. It gives them a chance to do well and pursue their dreams.”