Robert Johnson: A Butte of a Backstop's coverage of the 2004 First Year Players Draft continues with Joe Kaiser's conversation with 4th round pick Robert Johnson. Read on to get the low down on the catching prospect who comes to the M's via Butte, Montana and the University of Houston.

Almost any Mariners fan can remember back to last month, when the team chose local high school star shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo with their first pick of the 2004 MLB First-Year Player Draft. What most don't recall, though, is the versatile catcher Seattle chose with their second selection.

His name is Robert Johnson, a native of Butte, Montana who spent two years at Saddleback Junior College, twice turning the temptation to turn pro after being drafted in 2002 and 2003, before playing last year at the University of Houston. Entering his junior season with the Cougars in 2004, the muscularly built catcher was pegged as a prospect who would be drafted somewhere in the top three rounds. By the end of the season, those projects had slipped a little bit.

"I started off real slow and I think some teams lost interest in me hitting wise," said Johnson. "I dropped down to where I was supposed to go from the third-through-sixth round."

In the fourth round the Mariners decided it'd be in their best interest to not wait and see if the catcher would slip to them in the later rounds, and they selected him hoping he would sign.

Having been drafted twice earlier as he was, Johnson said it was almost a foregone conclusion that he was going to do so.

"I definitely wanted to sign," said Johnson, who admittedly grew up a fan of the Oakland Athletics. "I just wanted a fair amount of money to start my career."

Last week, the Mariners sent scout Kyle Van Hook to Johnson's hometown in Montana, only an eight-hour drive to the east of Seattle, and both sides agreed on a contract.

From there, Johnson headed west and reported to Everett over the weekend.

Since joining the AquaSox, the Mariners Short-Season A affiliate in the Northwest League, Johnson has hit very well but been eased into defensive duties. He's appeared as an outfielder and designated hitter while working off the rust that accumulated from the down time behind the plate.

"I haven't played in a few months and I don't know the pitching staff at all," said Johnson of the situation. "I need to get back used to catching and get my eyes adjusted. I have to get used to the pitchers.

"The M's knew I played a little outfield in Houston, and I think they just wanted to get me some swings in."

Johnson is confident that he'll be back behind the plate in the near future, doing what he loves to do most.

"Defensively, I like to throw," he said. " I like to pick guys off. I like when guys try to steal. I love throwing, that's my game."

And offensively? Well, Johnson may not be a home run hitter, at least not yet, but his ability to power the ball into the open spaces in the outfield has already shown up time and time again.

"I think I'm a gap-to-gap hitter," said Johnson. "I can leave the yard every once in a while.

"I like to steal," he continued. "I've got some speed for a catcher, which is a little different, but I like to grab a few bags."

Up in the Pacific Northwest and relatively close to his friends and family back home - " or at least as close as he could expect to get playing professionally - " Johnson feels a sense of relief to be settled in to his new team. The situation is right, the team is winning and the location about perfect.

"Over the last couple years I've turned into a Mariner fan and it's awesome being up here in the Northwest," said Johnson. "I've got some family up here in Washington and the rest are in Montana. It's been awesome."

And this is only the beginning of what figures to be a long career for Robert Johnson.

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