This was supposed to be an important season for Reid Johnston.
Being a selection in the 2020 Major League Baseball amateur draft was a real possibility for the N.C. State junior and Rocky Mount Academy graduate if he continued his success on the mound for another season.
Johnston had started four of N.C. State’s 17 games — with a March 6 loss at Virginia being his last outing — before the coronavirus wiped out the remainder of the season. Now, Johnston’s schedule shows a wide open spring that is sure to be filled with uncertainty about what’s next.
For now, the Wolfpack junior is trying to stay ready for whatever might come next.
“This is tough right now for the season to come to an end the way it did,” Johnston said. “There’s really nothing anyone can do about it. The draft is important, it was something that was out there, and now we’re done playing. So as for the next step, I’m continuing to throw bullpens and work out.”
As a junior, Johnston is eligible for the MLB draft — which is scheduled to start June 10 in Omaha — for the first time in his career. He was a standout third baseman at Rocky Mount Academy, where he provided a potent bat in the Eagles’ lineup.
N.C. State had other plans for the 2017 Telegram batter of the year when he arrived on campus and the coaching staff turned him into a pitcher.
With a big fastball, Johnston pitched out of the bullpen early in his freshman season and picked up four saves by the middle of March. He stretched out and became the Wolfpack’s regular Friday starter midway through that 2018 season.
As a sophomore, the right-hander pitched a team-high 77 2/3 innings with a 6-2 record and a 3.71 earned run average. It was the first time that Johnston had pitched that many innings, and he said that it took some time for his arm to get used to the workload.
“It was tough throwing something like 75 or 80 innings,” he said. “But once you get through the first month, and you have games where your pitch count gets to 90 and 100 pitches a game, your body acclimates to what you’re putting it through.”
Johnston threw 15 innings across his first four outings last season. Through four starts this year, Johnston had thrown 12 ⅔ innings.
And as he ramped up to midseason form, Johnston was expected to be an important piece of the Wolfpack pitching staff, a prospect that he never thought was a possibility as a high schooler.
And it has been a lifestyle shift of sorts. Johnston discovered that having a routine as a pitcher is important. He also had to pay attention to how he was taking care of his arm throughout the season as his innings workload increased.
“When I was in high school I pitched a little bit but I never did arm care or the little things to keep your arm healthy,” Johnston said. “When I got to college and started working with trainers, you learn how important it is to take care of your arm so you can be strong as you can be to throw 70, 80 or 100 innings a year.”
Part of that arm care involves icing following starts, performing specific lifts and stretches, and being smart when throwing bullpens. Johnston said he found out rather quickly that he couldn’t throw hard every day.
“It was different because as a hitter you can go out and hit off a tee and swing hard, but as a pitcher you can really only throw hard one or two days a week,” Johnston said. “The other days you have to build up to the times you can throw all out.”
There are few opportunities to throw “all out” now, so Johnston is keeping loose and staying ready for the next call.