Confident Johansen dedicated to joining Nats
Talented prospect looking to improve skills with eyes on rotation or closer role
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Despite what his numbers said while he was in college, Nationals right-hander Jake Johansen is confident in his abilities.
As long as he does the little things right, Johansen believes he will be in the Nationals' rotation some day. Furthermore, Johansen has not ruled out becoming a closer in the future.
"I see myself as a starter. I'd like to stay a starter as long as possible," Johansen said. "It's whatever I can do to help the ballclub win. So if that's the starting rotation role, then I'll be more ecstatic to do that. If it's a closing role, I'm more than willing to do that as well."
Johansen, 23, is the first to tell you that he needs to improve his skills before he even thinks about going to the big leagues. Before the team's accelerated camp for prospects came to an end recently, there was Johansen improving his delivery and secondary pitches -- curveball, slider and a changeup. He wants to develop a sidearm delivery and throw across his body a little bit.
"Getting there a few weeks earlier made a huge difference," Johansen said about the accelerated camp. "It gets your mindset ready and helps you physically prepare for the grind of the season. I made a few adjustments in my delivery. ... I feel really comfortable going into the season."
Johansen was the 68th overall pick -- and the Nationals' first pick -- in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. Johansen has a fastball that is clocked as high as 100 mph. However, his secondary pitches are a work in progress.
Before he was selected, Johansen went to Nationals Park and worked out for the team. After throwing 30 pitches, the Nationals decided to draft him even though he had a 5.40 ERA for Dallas Baptist University last season.
Johansen remembers the day vividly when he threw for the team at Nationals Park.
"A few days before the Draft, it was an unforgettable experience in itself to play on that field. It was awesome," Johansen said.
The Nationals are convinced they can fix any flaws Johansen may have had on the mound.
"He is a big, physical, strong starting pitcher. He has a real quick arm and wants to harness his delivery," said Mark Scialabba, the Nationals' director of player development. "He is a sponge right now. He is really working hard at his craft. He is a great makeup guy, and we hope that he takes a big step forward this year."
Johansen, who is ranked by MLB.com as the 12th-best prospect in the Nationals' farm system, took some steps forward during his first season in professional baseball. In 10 starts for Class A Short Season Auburn, Johansen had a 1.06 ERA and struck out 44 batters in 42 1/3 innings. Johansen said he went in with a bulldog mentality and took one inning at a time.
Then he went to Class A Hagerstown, where he admitted he was physically tired but loved the playoff atmosphere.
"We went to the championship game, of course," Johansen said. "The fan support was great. I really enjoyed it."
Johansen hopes to harness his craft and enjoy better success in the future with the Nationals.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.