Scouting Padres Prospect: Michael Johnson

The Padres have been patiently waiting for Michael Johnson to play a full season and reach his immense potential. They are at least beginning to see one of those happen.

After being selected in the second round of 2002, a lengthy contract dispute that was settled minutes before the 2003 draft, and being assigned to Lake Elsinore where he did not embarrass himself in 2003, the Padres had hoped they would see Michael Johnson put on the fast track.

But injuries have led to inconsistency and his third year as a professional saw him back in Lake Elsinore for tour of duty number three in the California League.

"If he can stay healthy – he got off to such a good start last year and got hurt – and then came on late," Bill Gayton, the Padres director of scouting, said.

It was a knee bruise in 2003 that hampered Johnson and was followed by dislocated knee cap in '04 that stole two months from his career. This past season promised to be one without trouble – injury-free. But a wrist injury ended up claiming a month from his 2005 season when he had to have surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his right hand.

But his season was termed a success. Johnson delivered knockout blows when he was in the lineup, amassing 20 doubles, five triples, 21 homers and 76 RBI's in 73 games with Lake Elsinore. That equates to more RBI's than games played for those of us that are mathematically challenged.

"He certainly has power," added a Padres scout. "He can drive the ball out of the ballpark to all parts of the field. It is just that consistent stroke."

Ironically, Johnson had room to do so much more damage. Despite his gaudy RBI total, the first baseman hit just .221 with runners in scoring position (RISP) and .207 with RISP and two outs.

Sixty-one of his RBI's came in his only two months of health – a span of 48 games where he belted 19 homers.

Those kinds of numbers make his progression clear. The underlying factor behind his hitting has been "zoning in". Johnson used to go to the plate without a purpose but now he has decreased the size of his hitting zone and where he is looking to drive pitches.

The hope is that also translates into a lower strikeout ratio. He has fanned 255 times in 217 minor league games and only walked 37 times this past year. Given the pop in his bat he should be targeting much higher totals.

A huge part of baseball is the mental side of things and Johnson will, at times, struggle with that aspect of the game. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform and if he does not feel right in batting practice he will carry that over to the game.

As for his work around the bag, Johnson has progressed nicely. He does not have the range but anything sent his way will be handled efficiently. He has swivel to his hips and while he looks bulky and slow is quite nimble for a man his size.

Held back in previous years, Johnson believes 2006 is the year he truly breaks through from start to finish. And it may have to be. Johnson is 25 (he turns 26 in June) and the clock is ticking.

"We wanted to make sure that he had a good season before we promoted him and had the confidence necessary to advance," said Tye Waller, the Padres former director of player development.

More than likely, Johnson will end up in Mobile, as Portland is stacked with first base prospects. The Southern League will make a man at of you and it could be the challenge that Johnson is looking for, along with a full year of health. There is no questioning his ability but a full season of injury-free ball will tell the true tale on whether Johnson is on the rise or a forgotten name.

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