Jimmy Rollins’ cousin looks to make mark in draft, beyond

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) When practice ends and before going inside, Osiris Johnson makes a brief stop to thank a trio of scouts – and two who have flown in just to see him swing a big bat and show off his slick fielding at shortstop.

Johnson’s hair is pink on top and bleach blond on bottom this day. Several chains hang from his neck. This 17-year-old top prospect has the swagger down, and perhaps it’s born into his pedigree. He is the cousin of former big leaguer Jimmy Rollins, attending Encinal High where Rollins and Dontrelle Willis once starred. Playing on Willie Stargell Field, no less.

Rollins is cheering Johnson’s every step in the process and accomplishment as a key member of the teen’s support team.

”I couldn’t be any more proud of O than I am now, well, until he makes it to the big leagues!” Rollins said via text message Saturday. ”I know the journey ahead and the joy it brings in the end. I remember bringing him out to Philly, putting him in a mini Phillies (uniform), heading out to stretch and shagging the balls that were hit our way. Now here we are two days away from the MLB draft! I never understood why our Uncle Karl would cry every time he came to a game in SF. The first one, OK, but not every time (LOL) but whatever made him cry when he saw me in uniform on that field is now happening to me with Osiris!

”It’s an overwhelming joy in my heart and I just can’t help it, just like our uncle!”

A right-handed hitter with pop, Johnson has been working on switch-hitting since he was 11. He stands in lefty on occasion in games, and in practice launched a home run over the right-field fence that landed on the roof of a housing complex.

”He’s costing me $30 a day,” longtime and outgoing Encinal High coach Jim Saunders cracked one day last month of all the departed baseballs over the outfield fence.

Johnson’s dad, Marcel, just chuckles at that one.

”That’s the object, see if we can lose some over the fence from time to time,” Marcel said.

At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Johnson is still growing and not 18 until October. He started elementary school at age 4.

Johnson batted .535 with six home runs, 24 RBIs, 15 doubles and two triples in 26 games as a senior for Encinal, where scouts flocked to see him play on a modest home field right off the bay.

”It’s a humbling game, so it keeps him grounded,” his dad said. ”You want to stay humble. We’re not real flashy as a family or anything. Just kind of go out there and do what you like to do, and play. Whatever his passion may be, if it’s outside of baseball, just go and be good at doing it and be humble, don’t show anyone up.”

Marcel watches each at-bat and defensive play intently, moving to the top of the bleachers to take video when his son steps into the batter’s box.

”Oh, good play, pick it!” he hollers at one point.

Watching Rollins never hurt Johnson’s development. He is also cousins with former big league outfielder Tony Tarasco.

”Jimmy’s always been humble that makes me know you can still make it being humble,” Johnson said, noting his thoughtfulness with scouts and others, ”It’s just out of respect of them coming to watch me play.”

Johnson was on his way to a workout in Miami for the Marlins on Sunday.

”I believe he’s pretty much settled into this type of life already,” said his mother, Angel Williams. ”He’s not too cocky of a kid. He’s a good kid. He’s always been a good kid. We’ve never had problems. It helps to be able to see what to do and how to act, to be in those environments at an early age. It’s different. It’s kind of hard to say we weren’t ready for this, but Osiris has been playing baseball forever. It’s what he wanted to do so we geared him for it so it wouldn’t be daunting for him.”

The Major League Baseball draft starts Monday night, and if Johnson is a first-round pick – as some scouts project – the family will be thrilled.

”It really would be a blessing,” his mom said. ”He’s worked really hard for it. I know that’s what he’s looking for, definitely.”

Johnson is prepared for whatever the next step may be: likely a minor league assignment very soon.

”Just ready for the grind,” he said. ”I’m ready to go.”

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