Padres Prospect Interview: Michael Johnson

MOBILE - In 2002 Michael Johnson teamed up with Padres shortstop Khalil Greene to lead the Clemson Tigers into the College World Series. On a team with several prospects, the future looked as bright for Johnson as anyone when he was selected by the Padres in the second round behind Greene in 2002. But acrimonious contract negotiations led Johnson to return to the Tigers for another season (his fifth year of college baseball).

The Padres were able to sign Johnson just before the 2004 draft and assigned him to Lake Elsinore, where they expected him to rocket through the system like his former teammate Greene.

Unfortunately, Johnson has been injured the past two years limiting him to only 90 games in 2004 and 73 in 2005. Last year, Johnson did have two monster months giving the organization a glimpse of the damage Johnson could do when he is healthy.

In April, he hit .346/.411/.769, with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 20 games and August .319/.382/.707 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs in 28 games. In between, he was on the disabled list for the second straight season.

This year after a solid outing in the Arizona Fall League, expectations were high again for Johnson but a pulled hamstring suffered in the first game of the season in Mobile has kept him on the bench.

We caught up with Johnson two weeks ago when he was rehabbing his latest injury, an injury he returned from on Tuesday:

Any idea when you might be coming back?

Michael Johnson: I thought I was getting closer a couple days ago, but I had a little bit of a setback the other day so I'm still looking at a least a week away maybe more.

Although it's feeling better [hamstring] and getting better everyday, you know same old story.

It seems like every year its been something different, last year you hurt your hand…

Michael Johnson: …the year before it was a dislocated kneecap, the year before it was a bone bruise in the knee. So its been something different every time.

Even though you have been hurt the past two years, you had to be happy with some of the improvement that you saw last year in Lake Elsinore. How tough is it to come back each time and not get down on yourself?

Michael Johnson: It is really difficult. I think that has held me back in my career more than anything else, injuries. When you don't play a full season or get the number of at bats you need, it really hurts your development because you don't get the experience that you need.

One of the more positive things that you must be happy about is that you had a pretty good Arizona Fall League [.272/.339/.515], especially for someone who never played above A ball.

Michael Johnson: That was an exciting time to get that invitation and the experience, especially at that level. I didn't tear it up by any means but I felt I went out and held my own.

Did you see a big difference in the pitching in the AFL than you had faced before?

Michael Johnson: There was a difference in the pitching in that most of the guys in the Fall League had better command. They could throw breaking and off-speed stuff for strikes, they could spot their fastballs, which was the biggest difference. As far as velocity, guys throw hard everywhere you go, the difference is these guys know how to pitch at that level.

Even though your hamstring has been hurting you it looks like you are in pretty good shape.

Michael Johnson: Yeah [laughs] I'm doing everything but playing. It's not a good thing, but it seems that I've gotten good at getting injured.

You got hurt your last year in college too didn't you?

Michael Johnson: Yes, broke my ankle in the fall, so I was lucky that I didn't miss any games.

We'll get back to you again after you have another one of your big months.

Michael Johnson: That would be nice because right now I have five innings in Double-A.

About eight innings after Tuesday's game.

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