Axel Johnson‘s career has certainly been a journey, but he’s found his home in Sauget for the 2021 season. After five years of bouncing around not only different teams, but different positions, Johnson is set to make his debut in a Gateway Grizzlies’ uniform in May.
Following the conclusion of his college career, Johnson joined the Joplin Blasters, then a member of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. Johnson was slated to be a pitcher. Once again, he struggled on the mound, and after just a season in Joplin, the organization folded.
When Johnson made his way to the Cleburne Railroaders (American Association) for the 2017 season, it was clear that his pitching days were numbered, and that he was turning into a full-time outfielder. Johnson spent most of the season roaming the corner outfield spots. Despite five innings on the mound, his career was clearly headed down the path of being an everyday outfielder.
Johnson enters the 2021 season coming off of his best year yet in 2019. He spent his summer in California with the San Rafael Pacifics, a member of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. Johnson thrived on the Golden Coast. In his lone season in the Pacific Association, he dominated in almost every statistical category that existed. He was top 20 in batting average (.296), second in home runs (19), first in RBIs (67), and top five in OPS (1.038). It was truly a coming-out party for Axel.
While Johnson is slated to make his Grizzlies debut in May, this will not be his first taste of Frontier League baseball. In 2018, he spent a large chunk of his summer with the Windy City Thunderbolts. There, Johnson slashed .303/.349/.458 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs. Johnson impressed in his short stint in the Frontier League, and the Grizzlies took note.
Following the conclusion of his high school career in 2011, Johnson chose to play collegiate baseball at Texas Christian University. At the time, he was a pitcher. However, he never seemed to find his footing at TCU. After just two years, 1 1/3 innings pitched, and 26 plate appearances, Johnson decided it was time to make the switch to NCAA Div. II Missouri Southern. It’s safe to say he made the right choice. Johnson found himself in a much more consistent role for the Lions in his junior year and, by his senior season, he was an everyday piece in the lineup. His strong senior year was a key factor in the Lions’ dominant 40-14 season.
Johnson’s baseball story continues to unfold, and there’s seemingly no end in sight. In 2021, Sauget will join Cleburne, San Rafael, Joplin, and Crestwood in a long list of cities that Johnson has called home. Whether it’s switching colleges, moving across different professional leagues, or even substituting the dirt on the mound for the turf in the outfield, Johnson is certainly no stranger to change. And who knows, maybe his days on the mound aren’t completely behind him. Axel still found himself on the mound for three innings in San Rafael. So, if the Grizzlies ever find themselves in an 18-inning game, don’t be surprised if new manager Cameron Roth gives Axel Johnson the nod.