With baseball and schools shut down because of the coronavirus, local high school standout Jonny Robinson had a unique recruiting opportunity this spring with junior college power LSU-Eunice in Louisiana.
“I had been talking with them throughout the season we had and they wanted me to come to Louisiana to have a workout with the team,” said the senior catcher at G.W. Long who played at Dothan’s Northside Methodist Academy as a junior. “I was all for it and we were getting a date scheduled then the coronavirus hit and the season ended.
“They called me back and we did a workout over FaceTime where he (assistant coach Alan Orgain) saw me hit live, run a 60-yard time, throw from home to second and took my grades into account. He said I will call you back in a few weeks with our answer. He said he was interested in me.”
Three weeks after that FaceTime workout, Robinson was offered by the Bengals coaching staff. He signed to play for the school on Saturday. He chose the program over interest from L.B. Wallace, Enterprise State, Southern Union, Tallahassee Community College and Huntingdon.
“It was definitely relieving and I was super excited to go play for them because they have a great program over there,” Robinson said of what he was feeling as he signed to play for the Bengals.
Prior to this season’s shutdown in mid-March, Robinson was the leading hitter during the 14-game schedule for Class 2A top-ranked G.W. Long (9-5). He had a team-high .359 batting average and was the team leader in runs batted in with 14 over 14 games. His 14 hits were a co-team high. He also had four stolen bases, second on the team to Parker Collier’s five, plus a team-high two sacrifice flies and two sacrifice bunts.
“Definitely his strength is swinging the bat,” G.W. Long head coach Drew Miller said. “He has a ton of pop in his swing for a not huge kid. He definitely he can swing the bat.”
But it’s far from his only strength, stressed Miller.
“His biggest strength is his versatility,” Miller said. “About the only thing he didn’t do for us was pitch. We could have played him anywhere on the field. During batting practice, he would take ground balls and fly balls and was as good as the guys we had out there, but behind the plate was where we saw his need for us.
“He can play right field. He can play left field. He can play third base. He can play second base. If he doesn’t work out behind the plate, he is somebody you want in the lineup (for offense) so you will find somewhere for him to play.
“He can also run. We utilized him a base runner. There were times I wouldn’t courtesy run for him until he got to second or third base. That is another one of the elements to his game — that he was really good at running bases. He can really run.”
Robinson played third base as a junior at Northside Methodist where he hit .441 with five homers, 27 runs batted in, 36 runs scored and 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts. He earned second-team all-state honors from the Alabama Sports Writers Association in the Alabama Independent Schools Association classification.
During his first two years of high school in Tennessee at St. Benedict at Auburndale High School (freshman) in Memphis and Clarksville Academy (sophomore) in Clarksville, he played in the outfield.
While he has played multiple positions in his career, catcher appears to be where Robinson will land in college.
“I was recruited by different schools for different positions. Some schools for third base, some for outfield, some for multiple positions, but at LSUE, I will be a catcher only,” Robinson said.
He had never played catcher before this season, but began to like the position before play was shut down.
“I remember the first day of practice, I was catching bullpens to see how pitchers would throw and how I would do,” Robinson said. “It seemed kind of foreign at the beginning of the year, but as the season went on, coach Miller helped me get better and once I got better, it made it a lot more fun. I could control how the game went.”
Miller feels the best catching days are ahead for Robinson, a player he said works hard on his craft, whether it is offense or defense.
“When he has a whole fall and spring with somebody who can put their hands on him full-time, they can mold him into a more well-rounded catcher,” Miller said. “He will get a lot better because of that and his work ethic.”
Robinson said he was impressed with the LSU-Eunice program, which is located just north of Interstate 10 about 80 miles to the west of Baton Rouge near Lafayette. The Bengals’ tradition, both on the field and in sending players to higher levels of baseball, especially caught Robinson’s attention.
When this season was halted by the COVID-19 virus, the Bengals had a 21-0 record and were ranked No. 1 nationally in the NJCAA polls.
“They have won six national championships in the last 10 years. They were named the junior college ‘Team of the Decade,’” Robinson said. “Their coach (Jeff Willis) won the co-coach of the year award throughout all divisions of collegiate baseball (this year).
“They have a great track record of developing players. They have sent 57 players from their school to the (major league baseball) draft.”
Robinson said three catchers will be on the Bengals’ roster for next season and that nobody had the starting role yet.
“In the fall, we will all compete for the position and in the spring we will see who gets it,” Robinson said. “I will have to compete for it.”