No. 18 prospect quickly pivots to Plan B when ball sticks in mitt

April 1st, 2024

Looking at the laces on his glove before Sunday's Triple-A Jacksonville game, noticed they were loose. The Marlins' No. 18 prospect planned to tighten them, but then he made an eye-catching snare and an unconventional throw.

When Gwinnett's J.P. Martínez pounded a hard-hit grounder toward first base with two outs in the ninth inning, Johnston laid out to trap it -- not the first time he made a diving play during the opening weekend of the season. The glove might have been taking the term "trap" too literally, though, as the ball wedged itself in the pocket of his mitt.

As Johnston leaped to his feet, the 2019 17th-round pick attempted to transfer the ball to his throwing hand before quickly realizing the glove also needed to make a trip to first base. He tossed it underhanded with the ball lodged in the webbing to charging right-hander Eli Villalobos, who scampered off the mound to seal the unorthodox out. The Jumbo Shrimp ultimately fell to the Stripers, 10-0, at 121 Financial Ballpark, though.

"I didn't think I was going to get there," Johnston said. "I ended up getting there, reach for the ball, and the ball is really, really deep in the pocket. And I look at it, and I'm like, 'I don't have time to pop this ball out, so I'm just going to throw my glove.'"

The 26-year-old had seen the play done multiple times before in reverse, with a pitcher tossing his glove to the first baseman. The batted ball -- 99.6 mph off the bat of Martínez -- would have scored a runner from third base if not for Johnston's stop.

On the opposite end of the highlight this time, he impressed the reliever as well as his other teammates.

"I've been playing with [Villalobos] for a while," the Gonzaga product said. "And he always makes fun of me for not diving at baseballs, but I got him for one. So now he can't make fun of me for that. ... The pitchers will thank you, and they're going to treat you better, when you give your best effort on defense.

"We were getting our butts kicked, 10-0, so I was trying to have some fun, make plays and still give it my best effort. I think it raised the emotions, the vibe a little bit in the dugout. I think people were a little bit more excited to have something go our way on a day that not a lot of things were going our way."

Johnston said it might be time to retire that first baseman's glove and move on to a new mitt he broke in this spring. The one that he made the play with was his primary piece of leather the past couple of years at a position that likely sees the second-most action behind catcher.

"I might have to put it in a case or something like that just saying it lived a good, long life and served its purpose," he laughed.