Padres Interview: Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON DC - Last year, after watching Ben Johnson decimate the Pacific Coast League we published an article proclaiming him to be San Diego's next star.

Johnson a star in waiting

Both David Jay and I had him narrowly losing to Josh Barfield as San Diego's top prospect while Denis had him as the organization's top prospect. The Padres agreed with Denis, naming Johnson their Minor League Player of the Year, same as did with a little prodding from Denis.

When the Padres traded Xavier Nady for centerfielder Mike Cameron, re-signed free agent outfielders Brian Giles and Dave Roberts; Johnson had nowhere to go but to the bench and eventually back to Portland so he could play everyday and adding frequent flier miles to return to San Diego.

So far, Johnson hasn't been able to find a regular spot in the outfield, but has played well when given an opportunity to play everyday, hitting .297/.333/.514 in June. Most people within the Padres' organization believe Johnson will be an everyday starter in San Diego, if not by the end of this year then next.

Johnson is the only five-tool player, to date, in the San Diego system and with the Padres preaching the need to develop players that can not only hit, but are plus defensive players, especially in the outfield, Johnson is in line to become a permanent starter, and Kevin Towers practically anointed him as such last week.

After all, he just has too much ability not too.

When you got sent down to Portland we noticed that you were playing almost exclusively centerfield. Did the Padres send you down to Triple-A not only to get regular at-bats but to also work on playing centerfield?

Ben Johnson: I was playing there a lot more, but the main purpose was to get me at-bats and to get me used to playing all the outfield positions. If I can prove to them that I can play all three outfield positions its just going to another feather in my hat and help me that much more up here.

When you first came up last year you seemed to press a lot more than you have this year, this year you seem a lot more relaxed, regardless if you are playing everyday or in spots. What has been the biggest difference that has enabled you to do this?

Ben Johnson: After coming up and down a few times its just helped me now know what to expect and what the Padres expect out of me. Its also just getting the confidence necessary to know that you can play at this level.

We had a chance to talk to Tye Waller, the former Director of Player Development for the Padres and now the first base coach. He repeated a story about you that we printed last year about how he helped you to overcome some early season struggles in Portland, the gist of the story was that you needed to relax and let your natural ability take over. Has it helped you more this year knowing that Tye is here and he has knowledge of what you are capable of doing?

Ben Johnson: It has definitely helped having Tye here. He's seen me so much in the past he can point out to me when he sees something that I am doing wrong and get it right.

I'm also getting a chance to see a different side of Tye. Before you know he had my whole fate in his hands so that kind of intimidated you a bit. Now he's a first base/outfield coach I get to spend a lot of time with him and he gets to know me better and me him in a more relaxed environment.

You were taken right out of high school as opposed to so many of the guys in the organization that were selected out of college. How much more of an advantage was it to you getting to play three to four full years of professional ball, where you were playing around 130 games a year plus the Instructional Leagues and playing with wood bats as opposed to playing less than half that amount in college and with an aluminum bat?

Ben Johnson: I think its different for everybody based on your maturity level, but if you mature enough its definitively to your advantage to start your professional career as soon as you can. I remember a three or five period where I wasn't one of the priority guys in the organization so I had a lot more chances than some other guys because of my age.

In college if you are coming out at 22 or 23, you don't have that much margin to really screw up. The sooner you get into the system the better off you are.

I was just in Fort Wayne and there were a few guys that are 22 and 23 so you need to really hope the team promotes you pretty quick or soon you're going to be 25 or 26 and still in the minors.

Ben Johnson: Exactly, and maybe not even that. You could be 25 and in A ball which is really tough. Whether you like it or not the minors is about youth, and the younger you are the better off you are.

How did you hurt your shoulder and how is the recovery coming along?

Ben Johnson: I hurt it in the first game of the doubleheader last Saturday going after a ball in which I crashed into Mike Cameron. For the first few days I didn't see a whole lot of progress, but its been feeling a lot better the past few days. It will definitely be ready by the time I come off of the DL.

Have they let you know what is going to happen when you come off of the DL?

Ben Johnson: I understand if they want me to go back down and get regular at-bats, but I really want to stay up here. They really haven't said a whole lot about it yet, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

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