Padres Prospect Interview: Michael Johnson

San Antonio, TX-- One phrase that former Missions and current Portland Beavers first baseman Michael Johnson can relate to is "if it weren't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all."

Since he began his career with the Padres in 2003 out of Clemson, where he was Khalil Greene's teammate, Johnson has been beset by one injury after another; strained back muscles, broken fingers, hamstrings and last year a bad hop smashed his cheekbone in Mobile.

Things seemed to have gotten off to a bad start when Johnson and the Padres could not come to an agreement after being selected in the second round of the 2002 draft. Johnson was coming off of a season where he hit .384/.492/.749, with 25 home runs and 81 RBIs in 71 games [yes, those are real numbers]. Coming back for his fifth year of college, Johnson still had a good year, but an injured ankle and his age caused his stock to fall off slightly and he ended up signing with the Padre just before the 2003 draft for less than was originally offered him in 2002.

Despite being injured in every season that he has been in professional baseball, Johnson, 26, has shown glimpses of what made the Padres so high on him in the first place, posting OPS percentages of over 1,000 in the months that he has been healthy. His career line of .269/.357/.508 with 205 RBIs in 278 games indicates that he does have some talent, the big question is can he stay healthy for a full season.

Johnson is obviously old for the minor leagues and limited to first base or designated hitter. With Adrian Gonzalez anchored at first base for the Padres for the foreseeable future, it's unclear what future Johnson may or may not have with the team.

If it's not with the Padres, however, he's certainly showing that his talent is still intact regardless of the layoff, hitting.284/.388/.578 for the Missions before being promoted to Portland. As with so many other talented players, the ability is there, it's just a question of where the best fit may be.

How does it feel to be healthy this year?

Michael Johnson: It feels great. The times I've been healthy I've felt good playing ball so right now nothing is different. I'm just working hard and trying to stay healthy for a full season.

Anytime we write about you when you're healthy you've put some numbers. How hard has it been on you mentally to continually have to rehab then catch up with guys who have been playing while you've been hurt?

Michael Johnson: It's been tough you have to really work at it. The time that you miss, you miss seeing live pitching and it feels like you're going through spring training mode again while everyone else is ready to play. It's just tough to get your legs back underneath you, your timing and your arm going again.

You look like you're in great shape. What did you do in the off-season for training?

Michael Johnson: I just hit the weight room really hard and worked on flexibility. I want to be strong and flexible which I hope will eliminate any injuries that might come up. I worked hard in the weight room and when it came time to start baseball I got after that on the field.

You mentioned flexibility, is that because you are worried about hamstrings and back?

Michael Johnson: Well, I hurt my hamstrings last year and that was really discouraging in the first game of the season then to miss five to six weeks of the season, but I came back from it like the ones from the past.

This off-season I made it a goal to do everything in my power to eliminate those types of injuries because I've had a lot of freak injuries that you really can't do anything about, but if there is something I can do to prevent an injury I'm going to do it.

Are you still working out with your former college teammate Khalil Greene in the off-season?

Michael Johnson: No, I didn't get to this year. I went back to my hometown in Georgetown, which is on the coast in South Carolina and he's more in the upstate part in Greenville. Two years ago I worked out with him at Clemson, but we were in different parts of the state this year.

We noticed that you hit much better when you play first base as opposed to being the designated hitter. Is it tougher to stay in the game? Do you feel like its four pinch hitting appearances?

Michael Johnson: I haven't really thought about it that much. I prepare the same way whether I'm DH'ing or not. I take my ground balls before the game, so I don't know. At times whether it's a bad at-bat or a good at-bat, it's hard not to be thinking about what you just did when you are the DH.

As far hitting, I'm always focused when I walk from the on deck circle to that plate. I'm ready to go. Sometimes as a DH you sit in the dugout and just go over to many things, as opposed to going out on defense you have to be ready for that first ground ball.

Whenever you have played regularly you have always put up good OPS numbers, where you have taken your walks and hit for power. How did you develop the ability to have such a good strike zone judgment?

Michael Johnson: I don't know really how to explain that. I think if you ask any hitter they have certain pitches that they hit the best, and you almost have to be stubborn about waiting for that pitch before there are two strikes. It's just about waiting to get your pitch, but when there is two strikes you might have to swing at something you normally wouldn't, but it's better to get the ball in play.

It doesn't always happen that way, but I really try to wait for my pitch.

So someone could throw two strikes by you and if there not your pitches you're going to let them go by?

Michael Johnson: That is kind of the approach that the organization tries to teach you, patiently aggressive.

It's all about trying to hit the pitch that you want to get, which is what the organization is trying to teach. It's proven it's just a question of doing it.

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