Rob Johnson: Building On Success One Day at a Time

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - The Inland Empire 66ers got a gift in early August from the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. That gift, like a shiny present under the Christmas tree, was catcher Rob Johnson.

Johnson, a self described "country boy at heart" from Anaconda, Montana is also one of the top catching prospects in the Seattle Mariners farm system after being chosen in the fourth round, 123rd overall, in the 2004 Amateur Draft from the University of Houston.

"We moved over to Whitehall which is an even smaller then Anaconda," laughed Johnson during an over-the-phone interview. "About a thousand people live there. It was great. All the kids could walk around. Everybody knew each other. All the families got along really well. Just like what you see in the movies, you just go out to a baseball field and start-playing ball. You play hide and go seek. You go hang out on the ranch and go ride horses. It was a good time."

Johnson, a multi-position player who played catcher, right field and designated hitter while in college, has become a full-time catcher and hopes to learn something new at the position every day.

"I was drafted and the Mariners wanted me as a catcher," said the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder. "It is what I wanted to be too. I like that responsibility of being behind the plate, calling the game, trying to control the pitching staff and doing all that kind of stuff."

The intelligent backstop has made quite an impression from behind the plate since turning pro because of the fact that he has moved from Rookie League in Arizona to Advanced Class-A after only turning pro last year. Much of his success has stemmed from his clear understanding of the job at hand.

"The main thing is getting on the same page with your pitcher," he said. "A lot of these guys, I have not caught before. Just having conversations with them, tell them what I think, figuring out what their strengths are. You do not want to start pitching against your own pitcher's strengths. You want to use that more often times then not. If another team is going to beat you, you want them to beat you using your pitcher's best stuff."

The hard-hitting backstop has made the transition from Midwest League to the California League with very little bumps in the road.

"It's a totally different level of baseball here," said Johnson, who's batting .302 with the 66ers since his early-August promotion. "Pitchers can throw other pitches. Most of the time in Wisconsin, guys have one, maybe two pitches that they can throw all time for strikes.

"In this league, guys have three or four pitches they can throw for strikes at any time. You see a lot more 2-0 change-ups, 3-1 change-ups, 3-1 curveballs, stuff like this where hitting counts.

"More often then not, you are not going to get your fastball to hit. In Wisconsin it seems like, most of time, you get fastballs more often .The guys struggle to throw off speed for strikes but in this league, the hitters are better and the pitchers are better. That changes the whole game. The game is a little bit faster, which I like."

The game is not only played on the field but there is also a psychology that is unique to baseball and Johnson has been learning more about that every day.

"If you are not staying on top of it, staying focused in the games, you are going to fall behind and end up screwing up or you are not going to pick up on stuff that you should have picked up on," said the athletic catcher.

"You have to know how each guy is getting pitched at. Whether they are cheating for certain pitches. You never know when you are going to have to go play. Every game, there is an opportunity for somebody to learn something. If you can learn something every day, that is a day of achievement in my eyes."

But for the self described country boy, being outdoors and being around family is what is it all about.

"I am extremely huge outdoorsman. Being from Montana, my dad grew up on a ranch," he said. "My mom's grandpa worked in hey fields. I love the outdoors. I like hunting. Elk hunting. Deer hunting. Duck hunting. Fishing. Horseback riding. Hiking."

The earliest baseball memory for the former Butte Central High School alumni in Montana would be a picture his folks have back home.

"I guess when I was 2 or 3. There is this baseball picture of me with a bat in my hand and a number 10 jersey on. I just look fierce in this picture."

Having grown up into a well-rounded catcher, excelling both offensively and defensively as a pro thus far, Johnson has quietly climbed the charts and become one of the organization's top prospects behind the plate along with Jeff Clement. Not bad for a country boy.

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