M's 2006 Top 20 Prospects: No. 6

Creeping toward the Top 5, the first of two backstops in the top 10 start with No. 6, a prototypical catcher with a chance to be an adequate offensive threat.

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No. 6 – Rob Johnson, C
DOB: 07.22.83
Ht/Wt: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired:Selected in fourth round of 2004 draft
Signed By: Mariners' scout Kyle Van Hook

2005: Johnson began his 2005 season with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, impressing manager Scott Steinmann and then Rattlers pitching coach Brad Holman with his work with the pitching staff. After a strong showing in the Midwest League, the University of Houston product stayed the course in the California League, proving to the Mariners that he was a legitimate prospect that could handle a pitching staff– and the bat.

Strengths: Johnson has a lot of the tools that clubs look for in a receiver, including an accurate throwing arm, quality leadership skills and above average athleticism that should aloow him to polish off his already strong defensive game. There's more power in his 210-pound frame and he makes solid, consistent contact while limiting strikeouts. He's a strong personality that pitchers and coaching staffs have taken a liking to immediately upon his arrival.

Weaknesses: Johnson has no glaring weaknesses in his game, but needs more experience to further establish consistent habits, both at the plate and behind it. Johnson uses a shorter than average swing to eliminate high strikeout totals, but it may also be restricting his power numbers.

Defensively, Johnson has some room for improvement in blocking balls in the dirt and his catch-to-throw transfer but he's developing nicely in all aspects.
2005 Wisconsin A 305 19 9 51 10 10 31 .314 .381 .443
2005 Inland A+ 70 3 2 12 2 10 14 .272 .319 .430

Tools: Scouting Profile

Hitting for Average: 40+
Johnson has adequate plate skills for a catcher and he maximizes his production regularly, as evidenced by his 51 RBI in just 335 plate appearances with Wisconsin last season. He makes enough contact to hit .270 in the big leagues but will need to develop better pitch recognition, particularly on breaking balls. He will spray the outfield with line drives and can reach the gap to the opposite field.

Hitting for Power: 45+
There's more natural power in Johnson's bat, but his natural approach may not be conducive to a more aggressive offensive gameplan. His power potential will be challenged in the Texas League where the pitching is experienced, talented and intelligent. Johnson projects to reach the 10-12 range in the home run department, unless he makes an adjustment that allows him to reach back for a bigger, more powerful swing.

Somewhere in the low teens is likely his ceiling, especially if he spends his big-league time playing his home games at Safeco Field.

"We liked him as a bat, too," said a former scouting director. "His defense has been solid and will probably carry him, but he can hit some, and I wouldn't be too surprised if he becomes an asset offensively."

Glove: 55+
Johnson is already on the right path defensively and grades as an above average backstop who calls a good game and lead a roster. But he can push that grade to 60 and beyond with some refinements that should come with more experience. He has caught just 124 pro games and the more he squats down and fingers the signs, the better he'll get.

"We're really happy with Rob's progress," said an M's player development representative. "He's done everything we wanted him to do, and he's probably gone beyond that, which is perfect for a player at that position.

"We have some real talent behind the plate right now and Rob's defense makes him a legitimate option down the road. He's going to be that good."

Arm: 55+
Johnson gunned down 37 percent of would-be basestealers last season and proved he could turn his above average arm strength into effective production. As is the case with most catchers with just a year of professional tutoring, Johnson could improve his technique and footwork to better capitalize on his natural throwing ability.

Working with Roger Hansen, the Mariners minor league catching coordinator, there's little doubt that he'll reach those limits.

Speed: 40+
Johnson runs well for a catcher and is a solid all-around athlete. While much of that footspeed will diminish the longer he puts on the gear and catches, the Montana native is a smart baserunner and stole 12 bases in 15 attempts a year ago.

Future: There's little question whether Johnson's defensive skills will serve him well enough to be a regular catcher in the major leagues. The only question is whether he'll hit enough to stay in the starting lineup.

He'll begin that quest with the San Antonio Missions in the Double-A Texas League, where his status as a top catching prospect could be prolonged or ended altogether.

2006 Projection: .260/.315/.415, 8 HR, 45 RBI

MLB ETA: 2008

MLB COMP: Brad Ausmus (HOU), Jason LaRue (CIN)
InsideThePark.com's Top 20 Prospects are based on the player's long-term value to the Seattle Mariners organization.

All players that have not exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched at the big-league level are eligible. Service time is not considered.

The Scouting Scale grades are based on a combination of the payers' current and potential future skills.

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