Johnson, 24, is the best Padres outfield prospect since Jason Bay set Portland afire in 2003. A five tool player, he can hit, hit with power, run, throw and play defense, Ben has dominated the Pacific Coast League this year. He is hitting .310/.394/.546 with 26 doubles, 23 home runs and 75 RBI's. If Johnson hadn't been briefly called up to the Padres in July, he would be leading the Pacific Coast League in nearly every offensive category.
How hot has Ben Johnson been? He's hit .363 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs in his last 50 games. Throw out a first month where he hit .222, and Ben, well, you get the idea.
Johnson seems tailor made for the type of player that Padres General Manager Kevin Towers has said he wants to develop within the Padres' system to play the outfield in PETCO Park, a right handed hitter with power, plus defender (he can play all three outfield positions) and a player with unquestioned athleticism.
Many San Diego fans bemoan the fact that they never got to see Jason Bay become a regular with the Padres; he was part of the still controversial Brian Giles trade. A big question for 2006 is will Johnson be given an opportunity? Are the Padres really the scouting and developmental organization Kevin Towers and new President Sandy Alderson claim to be?
John Conniff: From the midpoint of last year in Mobile, through the Arizona Fall League, into spring training to this year in Portland you have really put together a string of solid performances. What has been the biggest reason for your success?
Ben Johnson: It's kind of hard to say. I've really cut down at swinging at bad pitches at the plate. I've been working a lot with Rob Deer [organizational hitting coordinator for the Padres] and Jose Castro [hitting coach for the Beavers], the more familiar I am with what they want me to do, the closer I can be to becoming the hitter they think I can be.
John Conniff: You have always had a lot of tools and been a hard worker, but you struggled for awhile in the minor leagues. What suddenly clicked for you?
Ben Johnson: I was working hard, but I wasn't working hard the right way. I went out to Phoenix to work out with Rob Deer the past couple of winters, which has really helped me, and I did it again last off season. I try to stay with the approach that he wants me to have, and stay away from bad habits. If there is a ball in the zone I just try to hammer it. Try to stay aggressive with that approach, and it has been working for me.
John Conniff: I understand that you have cut down the amount of pitches that you are looking to hit early in the count, looking for a ball in a certain spot.
Ben Johnson: Right, I'm looking for that one pitch. Cut the plate in half, maybe even a third, so that I can put my best swing on it. If its not there, I'll pass, but if it's there I want to put my "A" swing on it.
I don't want the pitcher to get ahead with something I can handle, if he can get ahead with his pitch, I can live with it. Also, it's about being more confident that I can hit with a couple of strikes. The more at bats I have, the more confident that I become that I am going to get my pitch to swing at.
John Conniff: We talked to Tye Waller, the Padres Director of Player Development, early in the season and he had said the key with you is being relaxed. When you're relaxed you're true ability comes out.
Ben Johnson: Yeah, I think in the past I've had too much of a football mentality on the baseball field and that doesn't work so well. In baseball you have to kind of back off, and let the game come to you.
John Conniff: How about your defense. This year you have been playing a lot more center field, like you did in Lake Elsinore in 2003. Are you comfortable playing there, especially with the knowledge that it could help you get to the Major Leagues.
Ben Johnson: Yeah, definitely. Early on this year I didn't play there that much, but the past few months I've been playing out there nearly everyday. I'm starting to feel like I belong. I'm getting better reads out there and really starting to feel comfortable and feel I can play out there as well as anybody.
John Conniff: Brian Giles has said that center field is his favorite position because he can see the ball better, he doesn't have to worry as much about the angles. A guy like you who can really run, is center field really easier for you because of the speed factor?
Ben Johnson: Yes, I get to see the swing path, where the catcher and pitcher are set up, maybe where they plan to pitch him. I can cheat a little bit to either side, it really helps.
John Conniff: Have the Padres told you where you might be playing in the fall?
Ben Johnson: No, nothing yet. They haven't said a whole lot. I played in Venezuela last year, so my options are still open.