"My career hasn't quite lived up to expectations," says Johnston, who sported a .206 batting average in 176 career games entering the year and was assigned to Class-A Peoria of the Midwest League for the start of the 2008 season.
"This is my third full season and it just hasn't really gone as expected."
If Johnston sounds worried, it's because he is. In fact, to hear the Cubs tell it, worrying may be what Johnston does best.
"Sometimes players think about too many things instead of staying in the moment," said Cubs Minor League Hitting Coordinator Dave Keller. "I think he's been one of those kids that think about so many things going on that he's had a tough time staying in the moment. So that affects his offense and his defense."
Johnston showcased some of his offense in a game last week against the Burlington Bees, a Kansas City Royals affiliate. He finished 2-for-4 with two home runs, knocking in four runs. That performance was part of a four-game hit streak, which saw his average climb to .294 through five games.
After one week, Johnston was batting .238 (5-for-21) for Peoria.
"I haven't really been working on much mechanically," said Johnston. "It's just refining the mental game. That's been my whole deal since I've signed. I'm trying to have a good approach [offensively] and am still working on my two-strike approach, and with taking your bat and having a plan, whether it's off-speed or fastball."
In the field, Johnston is in his first season in the outfield. He started his first seven games this season in left field after moving from the shortstop position, where he was initially drafted. Johnston committed 69 errors in three seasons at shortstop, including 46 a year ago that resulted in a sub-.900 fielding percentage.
The errors were just as much mental as they were physical, Johnston said.
"It was a mental block if you will," he said. "Right now, I'm staying in the outfield because I was struggling throwing the ball in the infield."
Johnston said that moving to the outfield has had its peaks.
"I've been able to focus more on offense and worry just about fly balls," he said. "It's still a lot of work and it's not easy, but it definitely has taken a lot of pressure off."
Several players who began their professional careers as middle infielders and struggled with the glove have said that moving to the outfield relieves them of some pressure and enables them to focus more on their offense.
Johnston is one of them, but the Cubs aren't sure if they subscribe to that theory.
"Everybody talks about that whole issue, but I don't know," Keller said. "After doing this for 27 or 28 years, I still don't know. I think we like to use that as an excuse sometimes, but I don't know if we use it because mentally they can't handle it, or because physically they can't handle it."
In spite of Johnston's struggles, the Cubs say they still consider him a special player and are far from writing him off.
"Our main goal is just to get him to loosen up and have some fun because he worries about everything," Keller added. "He needs to go play the game like its fun because he has, by far, the most ability of anybody in our minor league (system)."
"We have about 25 or 30 guys that have a chance to be really great players. You can't rush them. They've got to go play and learn how to adjust from at-bat to at-bat."
ALBUQUERQUE 2, IOWA 1 (CLASS AAA)
At Des Moines, first baseman Jake Fox hit his second home run of the season in a losing effort on Wednesday. Third baseman Bobby Scales picked up two hits, as did OF Matt Murton and catcher J.D. Closser. Iowa (2-4) used five pitchers in the defeat, including LHP Les Walrond (0-1), who allowed two runs and four hits in two innings. RHP Mike Burns started and pitched four scoreless innings, allowing three hits.
JACKSONVILLE 4, TENNESSEE 1 (CLASS AA)
At Sevierville, Tennessee was held to four hits in a loss Wednesday. Catcher Chris Robinson led the Smokies (3-3) with two hits, including a double and a run-scoring single. RHP Justin Berg started and suffered the loss, allowing two runs and six hits in 6 1/3 innings. Berg (0-2) struck out two batters and walked one.
DAYTONA 7, PALM BEACH 4 (CLASS HIGH-A)
At Daytona, first baseman Russ Canzler drove in three runs Wednesday and picked up his first extra-base hit of the season with an RBI double. OF Yusuf Carter added two hits and scored two runs. Carter has hit safely in five of his first six games. RHP Jose Ceda started and pitched three innings, allowing two runs and three hits to go with four walks in a no-decision. He struck out five. RHP Marco Carillo got the win for Daytona (4-3), tossing four innings in relief and allowing one run and two hits. Carillo struck out five of the 15 batters he faced.
BELOIT 1, PEORIA 0 – GAME 1 (CLASS A)
At Peoria, the Chiefs were held to three hits in game one of a doubleheader Wednesday. RHP Ryan Acosta (0-1), the Cubs' 2007 12th-round draft pick, started and pitched three innings, allowing four hits and the game's only run. He walked two batters and struck out four.
PEORIA 4, BELOIT 1 – GAME 2
In the nightcap at Peoria, RHP Dae-Eun Rhee, who was signed out of South Korea last August by Cubs Pacific Rim Scout Steve Wilson, picked up his second win for the Chiefs (3-4) in as many starts. Rhee (2-0) worked five innings, allowing one run and three hits. He struck out seven and now leads the Cubs' farm system with 12 strikeouts through the first week of the season. Shortstop Marwin Gonzalez finished with two hits atop the lineup, including an RBI double. OF Cliff Andersen hit a two-run inside the park home run for his first extra-base hit of the season.