Padres Prospect Interview: Seth Johnston

FORT WAYNE - Part one of five All-Stars in five days - Wizards' second baseman/third baseman Seth Johnston, 23, is not only one of the more versatile players in the Padres' system playing shortstop last year for the Eugene Emeralds and second and third base this year in Fort Wayne, but also a player whose offensive statistics go up an down more than a fat kid on a seesaw.

Seth Johnston at 6-foot-3 is a middle infielder the Padres envision hitting with power while having the range and ability to play in the middle infield. He starred for four years at the University of Texas, choosing to return to Austin for his senior year despite being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh round of the 2004 draft. His last year as a Longhorn Johnston hit .378/.419/.566. (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage).

A fifth round selection by the Padres in the 2005 draft, his season in Eugene was really two parts, the first part in July he hit .159/.182/.190 and the second, in August, where he hit .310/.365/.410.

This year he's off to a similar start having been named the Madfriars.com player of the month for April, when he hit .344/.402/.462, but subsequently featured the next month in the "Disappointments" section when he slumped to .196/.284/.272 for May.

With the retirement of Chad Steiner, the Wizards have shifted Johnston to third base, but his best position is second base. With the selection of third baseman Matt Antonelli out of Wake Forrest, who will probably be sent to Fort Wayne fairly soon after a brief stop in Eugene, Johnston should soon return back to second.

In April you hit .350, then you went into a tough slump for April where your batting average dipped below .200 what was the big difference?

Seth Johnston: You know we talk about baseball gods all the time and some times you are on the wrong end. If you hit .350 every month, you're not going to be in lower A for a long.

You were still hitting the ball hard and they just weren't falling in?

Seth Johnston: Well no, not all the time. I just got in a little bit of slump, or a bad groove as we say. Every hitter starts pressing a little when things are going bad. You stop taking pitches and sometimes swing at a bad pitches. I was still walking a bit and getting some hits occasionally.

You're RBI's were still up, third on the team in May.

Seth Johnston: Yeah, but that is more of a case of timely hitting and having guys on base. I've talked with Max [Venable, the hitting coach of the Wizards] about it and the last two or three weeks I've been hitting the ball better. You just have to be careful not to form bad habits and try to correct them as much as possible.

What is the biggest difference in your off-season from college? You came from a pretty high powered program at the University of Texas.

Seth Johnston: Actually that was my first real off-season. Because in college you are playing in the summer and in the fall. It was the first time where I was on my own doing what I wanted to do. I was real fortunate to get to work out at UT in Austin where I live in the off-season and work with a couple of great guys, two really good hitters everyday.

Who were the hitters?

Seth Johnston: One of them was Matt Holiday, he is a left fielder for the Colorado Rockies, his dad is the pitching coach for UT. The other guy is Curtis Thigpen who is with the Blue Jays in AA, who was one of my college roommates.

They have both been successful in pro ball. Matt was in the minors for six years until he got his chance in the majors and Curtis is in his second full season. You get around guys who know what to do and then get the work ethic established so you know what to do.

We started doing some light hitting in November and then kind of gear up so by February you start hitting a lot. Going to spring training I think it showed. I had a pretty good spring training offensively and it carried into the beginning of the season.

You know but, you are going to have some good days and bad days, you just have to try to keep it even keel as much as you can.

You seem to have a little more pressure than most guys because of the defensive demands that are put on you. This year you have played second and third, and last year you were at shortstop in Eugene. Which one are you the most comfortable at and which is your natural position?

Seth Johnston: Growing up I've played every position at one time, but up the middle at short and second is where I feel the most comfortable. I was talking to Maxy about third base and this is the first time I'm just starting to feel comfortable there. I've played third occasionally through my career, but haven't really played there that much in the pros.

I'm not quite there yet, but I'm getting there. I really don't care where they put me, whichever place is the quickest to get up the ladder. I feel that I can play anywhere.

I don't know if I can get behind the plate anymore, but if I had too.. [laughs]

Defensively, it seems that bigger middle infielders always have to fight the stereotypes that they can't cover enough ground. Do you run into that?

Seth Johnston: Yeah, there are always guys that believe that. There are a lot of guys that might have more range than I do, but I feel I play a pretty good second. I haven't played short in awhile, but I can play there too. Again, wherever they put me.

You guys are always aware of what you're statistics are because you want to move up. How do you balance between wanting to get hit, getting a hit with power, taking pitches, while being aggressive? It seems there are just quite a few demands on you besides just hitting a baseball.

Seth Johnston: Its really hard, especially with the emphasis that is put on on-base percentage and slugging percentage by the organization. Batting average is one of the most overrated stats in baseball but at the same time every one of us has grown up with knowing what our batting average is.

So its hard to put in your mind that going 1-4 with a walk is good. For batting average that is .250, but OBP its .400. So its difficult for me to get into my head that its good day, you're on base 2 out of 5 times. That is the name of the game, getting on base scoring runs.

We talk about this all the time in the clubhouse. So you have to re-establish what statistics are important.

Isn't it similar to the same problem with swinging at the first pitch, if it is a hit, a great move, if not you're not being patient?

Seth Johnston: Right, that is the same thing. You can swing at the first pitch, but you better get your barrel on the bat. If there is a guy that is consistently getting ahead on his fastball you should be going up to the plate getting ready to hit every time, but only if its your pitch.

You want to make that pitcher throw as many pitches as he can, but if you hit it hard that is all you can ask.

What is the biggest difference for you going from college to the pros?

Seth Johnston: Well the wooden bat, but that is a given. For me its playing everyday and the consistency that you need. You can watch your average drop 40 points in one week, which is what happened to me, and I didn't even have that bad a week.

It's a cliché, but you just have to keep a good attitude as much as you can.

It is a cliché, but it also seems really tough to do. If you're 0-4 with two strikeouts its tough not to let it carry over.

Seth Johnston: Yeah, that is why they call it a grind. Being a hitter is one of the toughest things to do in sports and its going to wear on you. Playing everyday is just tough. If you're not consistent, you're not going to fool anybody. You can have a lucky at-bat or a lucky day, but you can't have a lucky season. I think that is what separates players, consistency.

Contact senior writer John Conniff at conniff@sandiegosports.net


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