By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Johnny Eierman’s athletic talents were too showy to be hidden in his hometown of Warsaw, Mo., population 2,127.
The Princeton Rays outfielder batted .571 as a senior at Warsaw High School in 2011, making Rawlings Second Team All-American and being named Tri Counties Conference Player of the Year.
He gained more notice by running the 60-yard dash in 6.41 seconds and recording a vertical leap of 34 inches at a baseball showcase event in California.
He started at quarterback and safety on the Warsaw football team and earned all-state honors. In the classroom he achieved a 3.85 grade point average out of a possible 4.0.
And he had another valuable asset — his father, also named John, played 414 games in the minor leagues after being selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round of the 1991 Major League Base-ball draft.
The younger Eierman had made a commitment to LSU in his senior year of high school, but was also rated as the No. 1 pro baseball prospect in the state of Missouri and No. 84 overall. Tampa Bay picked him in the third round in 2011.
He had a decision to make, and his father had some advice.
The P-Ray said, “Basically, what it came down to was, he’s like, ‘If you want to go to college, have some fun, learn to play baseball, go to college. If you want to really focus on baseball, and that be your life and your job, go right out of high school.’
“He’s been nothing but supportive for me, just really helped a lot.”
The younger Eierman opted not to enroll in college, signing a pro contract late in the 2011 minor-league season. He was assigned to Tampa Bay’s Gulf Coast League outpost, where he played for a few weeks in 2011 and all of last season, batting .231.
Now he is busy building on his talents in his first Appalachian League season. He has played in 16 games, batting .175 with an on-base percentage of .214. He has also handled a transition from shortstop-third baseman to the outfield.
“I played in the Gulf Coast League all of last year,” he said. “I played third base in spring training and extended (spring training), then I got moved to the outfield right before the season started.”
The transition was “pretty easy,” he said. “I took some fly balls before the draft. A bunch of different teams were going to draft me as an outfielder, so I was kind of expecting it. It wasn’t that big of a difference; I just had to learn a few things.”
“Taking fly balls everyday in BP (batting practice), that helps, just getting the reps.”
He’s also been working with the Rays’ roving instructor for outfielders and baserunning, former major leaguer Skeeter Barnes.
“Skeeter’s our coordinator and he really helps out a lot,” Eierman said. “He knows what he’s talking about, playing in the big leagues a bunch of years.”
He said he’s concentrated on his defense. “I’ve really worked on that hard. Hopefully, the hitting comes around sometime soon.”
He has 13 strikeouts in 16 games, going 7 for 40 at the plate.
“Pitching’s pretty good up here (in the Appalachian League),” he said. “It’s a little bit different. In extended and Gulf Coast League, it’s kind of like they’re robots — they just throw fastball, they don’t really pitch.
“Here, they’re trying to get you out, trying to have good stats. It’s a lot different. This is actual baseball. Gulf Coast League didn’t really feel like a season.”
He offered his take on the attitude of the Princeton Rays ballclub — and on the team’s 7-26 record prior to Friday’s action.
“It’s not like we’re getting blown out every game; I think we have something like 10 one-run losses,” he said. “We’re going to click.”
“It’s a lot of fun. ... It’s still a good group of guys, a good coaching staff, so it’s been a good first-year (of) actual pro baseball in a good league.”
“We’re going to come around. We’re going to finish strong.”
His father grew up in Chicago and played baseball at Rice University before his four-year minor-league career, reaching high Class A ball.
He went on to become the head baseball coach at Warsaw High, and coached an American Legion travel team that included his 16-year-old son and reached the state championship game.
Since his father played in the Boston organization, the younger Eierman was asked about his dad’s attitude toward Tampa Bay, one of the Red Sox’ rivals in the American League East.
The answer came quickly. “He doesn’t care, man. He’s a Tampa Bay Rays fan,” the P-Ray said.
— Contact Tom Bone at