Name: Seth Johnston
DOB: March 12, 1983
He had a look of confidence in his eye that he hoped would carry over to the season, his first year of full-season ball after being drafted in 2005.
"He came out and got off to a good start," 2006 Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready said. "He was a good RBI guy and a good clutch performer and that continued on through the whole year."
Things began as he had hoped – Johnston tore up the Midwest League in April to the tune of a .351 average with nine doubles and 19 RBIs in 22 games. But things would not continue to go well for the second baseman.
"His year – the numbers he put up was a good year for him but it could have been better," 2006 Fort Wayne hitting coach Max Venable said. "He went through some injuries – the wrist injury. He battled hard. If you watched his swing during that time he hung in there pretty tough. To come out as he did with the injury and missing time I would say it was a successful year for the kid."
Over the next 25 games, Johnston would hit .196 as his pitch selection faltered and his strikeouts rose. He righted the ship, hitting .278 over the next two months before injuries befell him.
A hamstring injury claimed three weeks of his season, as he was beginning to heat up. He came back in August with two hits in his first 22 at bats as he struggled to regain his form before hitting .360 the rest of the way.
The main objective heading into next season – consistency. Instead of taking pitches and waiting for something good to hit, Johnston will get into patterns of swinging at the first pitch and chasing balls in the dirt. When the bad habits creep in it is tough for him to chase the demons.
"Being a hitter is one of the toughest things to do in sports and its going to wear on you," said Johnston. 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."
As an aggressive hitter, Johnston doesn't make the pitcher work as well as he should. His early confidence was great, especially when the bat was finding the ball, but his 32 walks on the year are low for a guy who clubbed 43 extra base hits and wants to conform to the Padres' stress on reaching base.
Johnston has doubles power and often finds the gaps in the outfield, accounting for 33 doubles in 112 games.
"He hit over .300 with runners in scoring position and had big two-out RBI's," Ready added. "Seth was always cool under pressure."
A Midwest League All-Star, Johnston pulls nearly every ball he hits and when he is not going well it often results in ground ball outs to shortstop and third base.
A right-handed hitter, Johnston struggled against southpaws, mainly because he would have trouble hitting pitches that hit the inside corner of the plate. When a left-hander missed to his sweetest spot, on the outside corner of the plate, Johnston made them pay. But lefties knew enough to rarely give him that chance.
The Padres changed his bat angle slightly during the season to give him better plate coverage, particularly on the inside portion of the plate in the hopes that he would get better wood on the pitches he was topping into the ground.
The swing plane should also allow his bat to stay in the hitting zone for an extended period of time.
"The only adjustment we made was changing his bat angle a bit which allowed him to get to some balls on the inner half," Venable explained. "His strength is pretty much straight away but more to right-center. There were some balls inside that he didn't handle consistently and with that adjustment he was able to get to some balls on the inner half and pull them."
Still, there are some scouts who wonder whether he will be able to maintain a high average.
Johnston plays a solid second base but lacks the range to get the balls behind the bag or deep on the infield grass on the first base side of the diamond. He will, however, make the plays when the ball is hit within his area. He does not have a great arm but it is good enough for second base.
"Defensively, with the position change, sometimes that carries over to the offense and in this case it did," said Ready. "When he settled down things were started to stabilize, he was playing consistent baseball. Then the hamstring injury caused him to miss three weeks and he came back and paid dearly for it over the first ten games and then started to swing it well down the stretch as we headed into the playoffs."
He also spent some time at third base and played surprisingly well, despite not seeing much action at the hot corner.
Most of his errors this year came from not being balanced with his footwork as he got himself in fielding position.
Not surprising, Johnston doesn't have a lot of speed but does show a lot of hustle and heart. He will take an extra base but will also ground into his fair share of rally killers.
"He might end up being a nice piece to a club – someone who plays short, second, third, first," Padres' director of scouting Bill "Chief" Gayton said. "If you get more bat than he is going to find a place to play everyday. I am anxious to see what kind of start he gets off to."
ETA: Johnston is on pace to begin the year in Lake Elsinore but really needs to take a step forward with his patience and consistency this year. He knows it but as streaky as he has been will it translate on the field?