It was July 31, 2000 and Heathcliff Slocumb is the name many remember but Ben Johnson is coming on as a prospect and may turn a trade that didn't originally net much into a windfall for the San Diego Padres.
Johnson completed his third year with Mobile this past season. Three years with one club would seem a bit excessive and say he was not living up to expectations but 18 years old when he signed and is 23 now. Fifty-seven extra base hits later he is being talked about in the same breath as top prospect Josh Barfield – at least according to someone who matters, Padres' Director of Player Development, Tye Waller.
"It makes me feel good to hear a guy like Tye Waller say things like that," Johnson said. "I respect Josh a lot as a player and a person. He goes out and gets the job done, no matter what the cost is. To hear Tye say something like that it makes me feel good."
The comparisons, far-fetched just a year ago, have become increasingly familiar. Johnson knocked in the second most runs in the Southern League, 85, trailing only Barfield. His extra base totals led the league.
Johnson and Barfield benefited from each other as well, flipping between the third and fifth spots in the lineup. What that says is the protection for each of them wasn't there and they were often knocking each other in.
Johnson and Barfield then went on to play in the Arizona Fall League and this time it was Johnson who outdid his partner in virtually every facet of the game.
Moved to the leadoff spot with such a talented lineup, Johnson hit .325 with an on base percentage of .400, led the league in runs scored with 31, smacked five homers and drove in 23.
With the year Johnson had, he likely, and finally, got himself out of the Southern League and into the Pacific Coast League.
"I am ready," he says. "It is rough. (The heat) starts to take its toll on you towards the end of the season, batting practice everyday and then infield and outfield practice."
Given the third trip on the merry-go-round, it is understandable why he wants to get out. But what changed this year as opposed to his two prior stints with the BayBears?
"My third time," Johnson groans. "I do look at it differently. I realize that you are not too far from the Big Leagues. There are just small adjustments that you need to make to become a more consistent player. Then you can be successful from here on out because there are a lot of guys that I have played with and against that are in the Big Leagues. I feel I have the talent to do it. I just need to put a better approach together and have better seasons."
The 2004 was one of those better seasons from the start to the finish. Not only did he perform well in a pitcher's league but then he went out and showed he could play with the big boys in Arizona. Stepping stones towards the constant fight with consistency.
It may not be long before the trade is remembered as Tebbs and Hernandez for Johnson and some other guy. The third tenor is making his appearance known.
Denis Savage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Padres Prospect Interview: Ben Johnson
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