Padres Prospect Interview: Craig Johnson

When you get hit as much as Craig Johnson did, you get the feeling that people just didn't like him at all. In 34 games with Peoria, Johnson was hit by nine pitches. Four of those came in consecutive games starting on August 10.

"Guys on the team were making fun of me for it too," Johnson said with a laugh. "‘I don't what to tell you guys. The ball finds me.' I don't know what it was. I can't explain that one. It was really something else. It seemed that every time I stepped in the box I was getting a ball coming my way.

Through all of the erratic pitching, Craig Johnson remained healthy. When it has become commonplace for a player to suffer a broken wrist or fractured finger from an errant ball, Johnson came through each with just a bump or bruise.

"I guess I got lucky," Johnson admitted. "I got hit a couple of times pretty hard, in the back or in the leg – parts that had a little bit of meat on it I guess. Getting on base, I will take it anyway I can."

Getting hit by a pitch on August 10 enabled Johnson to extend a streak where he reached base safely in 12 straig

ht games. That was the only day he did not manage to record a hit during the streak. That was while he was with Peoria. Later in the year he returned to Eugene, where it all began for Johnson this year. He was hitting .261 at the time of his demotion to Peoria and left Peoria hitting .288.

He attributes his success late in the year to several coaches who helped him.

"I was working with Bengie, Ben Ogilve our hitting coach out here, at that time and one of the things we were working on was staying quieter with my swing. Trying to be a little smoother with my swing. The shorter you are, the longer you can see the ball, the better you can see the ball. Obviously the better you can see the ball, the better you can hit it.

"That was one of the big things we were working on, keeping my swing smooth and quiet. That is something Begie and I talked about quite a bit and worked on. I think that is one of the biggest things I did. It wasn't any huge changes with my swing."

After starting out 0-for-8 in his return to Eugene, Johnson was able to have success over the final week and a half of the season. He had three multi-hit games and in two of those he recorded three hits.

"It really did feel good to get back in the swing of things and swing the bat all right," he said. "I started off and I didn't do too hot."

It provided Johnson a chance to taste some success heading into the offseason, something Padres' Director of Player Development Tye Waller says is "invaluable."

Johnson was known as the jack-of-all-trades back in college. Whatever the situation called for, he would handle the role. From bunting, where he had ten to tie him for first in the single season record books at Sacramento State, to walks with 47, stolen bases with 18, and RBI's with 42.

But in the minors, Johnson wasn't drawing the walks nearly as much and his stolen base totals trickled to a crawl.

"You are right about the walks," Johnson admits. "I think the longer I play, I will start drawing more walks. I think this year was adjusting to the different pitching. Using the wood bats is also an adjustment. You try to be a little more aggressive and don't want to be in to deep a hole and just not feeling as comfortable swinging a wooden bat.

"The stolen base thing has yet to come but we will see about that too. I stole some bases in college. I have average speed. We will see how it cracks up. I haven't had many opportunities out here. I think I will have a few stolen bases."

Johnson has shown that he can produce on a number of different levels in college. A lengthy season with Peoria and Eugene left him a bit tired and perhaps altered his game.

They say the first year of development in the system is a wash. It is a wait and see approach. Next year, when he doesn't have to go from college ball to the pros, Johnson can focus his energies a bit more.

It was a long season of adjustment and many who make that trek find the holes in their games. This offseason, Johnson is dedicating himself to shoring up those holes in hopes that next year becomes about fine tuning.

"I feel like I have a lot of potential in different areas. We will see how they develop."

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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