"What might have been" still good enough

Since Michael Johnson became the Padres' second-round pick in 2002, hitting – and hitting for power – has come fairly easily to him. Getting on the field, however, has not.

This year was no exception. With eight homers, 31 RBI and a .346 average at the end of April, Michael Johnson appeared ready to finally break out. But, then he broke a bone in his right hand and lost nearly 12 weeks to the disabled list.

The hand injury just continued a trend in Johnson's career. In 2004, a patella tendon injury cost him a third of the year. The year before, an extended contract dispute kept him from joining the Padres until June, and a shoulder injury limited his already-abbreviated season to only 46 games.

But, as disappointing as his time off the field has been, his time on the field has given reason for hope. In just 288 at bats this year, he led the Storm with 21 home runs, and his .618 slugging percentage would have been good for fourth in the league had he qualified. Only Fernando Valenzuela Jr. and George Kottaras had a better average in as many at bats, and only Brett Bonvechio, who got to the plate almost 250 more times, had more extra-base hits.

"I need to stay healthy," said Johnson. "If I play a full season, I feel like I'll produce the way I need to advance."

Johnson impressed enough to earn the Padres' one slot in the Arizona League reserved for players under Double-A, giving him his first chance against higher-caliber pitching. If all goes well, the 25 year old will finally move up the chain in 2006.

Although Johnson was the best the Storm had to offer, he was by no means the only prospect to thrive in the hitter-friendly California League.

Fernando Valenzuela, who split time at first base and DH with Johnson, posted a .296 average to finish highest among the players who spent a full year with the club. While his long swing concerns some as he moves up the system, his team-leading 83 RBI and 44 extra base hits earned him the Storm MVP award.

As impressive as George Kottaras was in earning his promotion – he hit .303 and slugged .469 in 91 games before heading to Mobile – his replacement was every bit as good. Colt Morton joined the club at the end of July and mashed nine homeruns in just 96 at bats over the final month.

Drew Macias, whose defense has never been questioned in centerfield, upped his production at the plate after two years in Ft. Wayne. After he finished with a 289/354/396 line, the Padres asked him to add some bulk to his 6-3 frame, hoping that he can build on the 23 doubles he hit this season.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise contributor for the Storm was outfielder Adam Bourassa, who joined the team after he was released by the Rangers organization in late May, thrived in his new environment. In 48 games, he impressed with a .356 average, .428 on-base percentage and 11 doubles hitting primarily in the leadoff spot. Although his season came to a premature end when he broke his wrist going after a ball in the leftfield corner, the 5-foot-8 Bourassa became a fan favorite with his all-out style of play.

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