Smithville pitcher Jared Johnson’s elementary school teacher had a premonition of sorts – she predicted that one day he would play for the Atlanta Braves.
Johnson’s childhood dream became a reality on Wednesday afternoon when Atlanta drafted him in the 14th round with the 427th pick overall.
“A scout for the Braves called me not long after the draft started today, and said hey, we really want to take you. We have seen some of your starts and really like what you have to offer,” Johnson said. “It gave me chills. Whenever you get that call, it’s, to say the least, definitely amazing. You can’t think straight, and it’s like holy cow, it’s actually happening. I have to give all the glory to God because he helped me make good jumps in my career and guided me to the right decisions.”
Johnson, Smithville’s right-handed ace who posted an undefeated 9-0 record this past season with 100 strikeouts, was originally projected to go on the second day of the draft and had talks with the Royals, who ended up going in a different direction.
“I wasn’t meant to be a Royal because that didn’t happen, so it wasn’t for me,” he said. “When you get that call from the Braves, it kind of makes you want to cry. Being from a small town and having the pro interest and the Division I offers, it’s a lot of pressure. I have said before that doubt motivates me, and with the Royals passing me up, I just wanted an opportunity to play. The Braves have given that to me, and I don’t plan on stopping to pursue my dream. They have a lot of faith in me, and I have a lot of confidence in myself. I’m definitely ready to get started.”
Originally committed to Mississippi State, Johnson said he had already been in touch with the Bulldogs.
“I talked to Coach (Jake) Gautreau and told him I was likely going pro,” Johnson said. “The SEC is the toughest conference in college baseball, and it would be awesome to play for any of those three schools, but especially Mississippi State. They are the kings of college baseball, and MSU is a baseball haven. It makes you feel pretty special to even have that opportunity. But I am excited about starting my professional career. I know it’s going to be a challenge, but I think I am up for it.”
He has plans to go to Atlanta this week to sign his professional contract.
Johnson said the fact that he was drafted in a later round didn’t affect him and listed several current and former Major Leaguers taken later in the draft.
“It’s not all about the round, and it’s about the opportunity,” he said. “It’s about how hungry you are, and right now, I’m starving. I’m kind of at a loss for words and soaking it all in.”
The support rolled in quickly from not just the Smithville community, but from all over Northeast Mississippi after Johnson’s name was called in the draft.
He’s the first player to be drafted out of Smithville and the first Monroe County baseball player to be drafted since Amory’s Mitch Moreland in 2007.
“God has got me through a lot, and I’ve been praying and hoping, so it’s definitely a good feeling to be able to make everybody proud of me,” Johnson said. “We always say Seminole proud at Smithville, and just the love and positive feeling I have gotten has been awesome. Even from rival schools, I have had people message me on social media and say, ‘We’re proud of you, and we’re rooting for you.’ I owe it all to God and to my family and community for supporting me because they are the ones that have been saying they were proud of me no matter what I ended up doing.”
Johnson is already no stranger to one of the ballparks for an Atlanta minor league affiliate. He and the Seminoles just won the Class 1A championship weeks ago at Trustmark Park, home of the Double A Mississippi Braves, and he’s played for state three other times on the field.
“I have a lot of good history on that field,” Johnson said. “My last at bat there was a home run, and my last high school start was a complete game win.”
The support is also already in Northeast Mississippi for the Braves, and Johnson said he is looking forward to being able to play not too far from home in all levels of his professional career.
“This is Braves Country, and everybody here grew up being a Braves fan,” he said. “We do the chop and stuff at Smithville, and so being at a Braves’ game, that’s like a Smithville game on steroids. It’s awesome to have something like this happen and go from being a Seminole to a Brave.”
And one of Johnson’s first phone calls after receiving the word that he had been drafted?
“I called my teacher who had told me I would play for the Braves one day,” he said. “I said to her, ‘Guess what just happened.’ I can’t believe this is happening. She said that, and now I’m getting to do it 10-12 years later.”