Reds' Johnson thriving from both sides in AFL

November 6th, 2021

Reds infield prospect Ivan Johnson needs help naming his personalities from both sides of the plate. For now, we’ll call them Righty and Lefty, but more creative monikers are welcomed -- especially since they seem to be exhibiting different tendencies in the Arizona Fall League.

“It's usually more Lefty pop and then Righty adds a little something at the end,” said Johnson, who swung the bat well from both sides of the plate in a 3-for-4 effort in Surprise’s 8-6 loss in Glendale on Friday afternoon. “But Righty’s usually, ‘Hey, I need a couple of knocks today, so let's do it.’ And then Lefty’s like hey, ‘Let's elevate and celebrate if we can.’ So it's been kind of a flip these last couple of days with Righty taking it over.

“I hate referring to it as a third person. It's kind of weird, but I think if you ask any switch-hitter, it's literally like having two different personalities. I can hear myself and I sound ridiculous, but it’s so true.”

There’s nothing ridiculous about how the Reds’ No. 16 prospect has swung the bat of late, even if the splits from each side have been different than usual. His three-hit game on Friday included a double and his fifth home run of the fall, putting him in a tie for third. In four games this month, Johnson is hitting .357/.471/.929, with a pair of home runs and doubles. Both of the homers have come right-handed, a bit of a change of pace from a player who slugged .466 left-handed and .356 righty in 2021 after showing more pop from left side in '19 as well, though Lefty did double and single earlier in the game on Friday.

“I've been joking around recently in the clubhouse that I got two different personalities at the plate with right-handed and left-handed and for some weird reason, Righty’s been dominating all the love recently,” Johnson said. “So today, I was just trying to try to give a little bit more love to Lefty, and kind of in my pregame, show it a little bit more attention and lock it in. ... Got a good at-bat my first at-bat, got a good pitch to hit, saw a line drive drop, so that was a good start. Righty for some reason has just been kind of hogging all the love and I was able to show it again. He's been swinging it, so it was fun to catch that one.”

That one came against Cardinals lefty Zach Thompson, who previously has been extremely tough to hit with what Johnson termed a “nasty breaking ball.” He didn’t have as good a feel for it on Friday and Johnson found himself ahead in the count and was ready after fouling off a 2-0 pitch.

“He tried to bust me in 2-1 and I’d adjusted for my eyesight there and put a good swing on it,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s output wasn’t enough to offset the offensive damage Glendale inflicted on Surprise's pitching. Pedro Leon had a 4-for-4 day, Jose Rodriguez tripled and drove in a pair, while Orlando Martinez and Yolbert Sanchez homered to help the Desert Dogs win their third straight. That pulls them to within a game of the Saguaros, losers of two in a row.

That setback is secondary for Johnson right now, who is just happy to be getting somewhat regular reps after an injury-interrupted 2021 season. Though he was limited to 79 games, Johnson admits there were some valuable lessons learned from the experience.

“I think that was the biggest blessing, as much as being hurt can be a blessing,” Johnson said. “I'm just being able to be a good teammate in that moment, and just be able to really enjoy the side where you're not having to lock in and you get to just hype people up and they love having you around. And then when you're out there, now it's everybody wants to see you do good.

“And then, for me personally, like that appreciation. … I missed a month and a half and I wasn't out there every day. So now every time I'm out there, it's even better. So there are no complaints. This is the first time I’ve played baseball in November. It's a little taxing, but at the same time, I know how bad I felt in the thick of it when I was trying to get back out there.”