The Tigers popped Johnson in the seventh round in 2009. He went straight to Oneonta upon signing and while he struggled to hit for average (.241) he did post a .345 on-base percentage with 21 extra-base hits in 73 games.
Johnson improved his prospect stock in 2010 with a .284/.413/.388 line in the Midwest League. Though he was a little old for the level, Johnson walked nearly 100 times on the season while striking out only 76 times.
The Tigers skipped Johnson to Double-A Erie for the 2011 season and he certainly held his own despite a two-level jump. In 137 games for the Seawolves, Johnson cranked 33 doubles, five triples and four home runs, on top of 84 walks and a .376 on-base percentage.
The first thing that stands out with Johnson on the field is his size. He is listed at a generous 5-foot-9 with most scouts believing he's an inch or two shorter than that.
Despite his small stature, Johnson has some big league tools. He is an above-average defender in center field with the plus necessary to go get it from gap to gap. He does much better on balls hit to the side of him than he does with balls hit right at him, but that is not uncommon as players gain experience.
He has a solid-average arm that plays well in center field though it requires everything he has to generate that type of velocity on his throws.
Offensively, Johnson's game starts with an exceptional understanding of the strike zone and good pitch recognition skills. He sees the ball well out of the hand with an advanced feel for recognizing spin. He rarely chases pitches out of the zone and is willing to work deep into counts, taking a walk if he doesn't get a pitch he can drive.
He has average bat speed and surprising pop for a player his size. He can lace line drives to the gaps with some regularity. Some scouts reported watching him struggle with big league caliber velocity in 2011 and as a result they wonder if the gap power he shows in the minor leagues will translate at the MLB level.
Johnson does have some swing and miss in his game and his strikeout rate spiked a bit with the jump to Double-A. If he is able to maintain his on-base ability against more refined pitchers then the strikeouts shouldn't become problematic.
Despite his plus speed, Johnson is not a major threat on the bases. He doesn't read pitchers well and his jumps are often a tick slow, leaving him vulnerable to being caught stealing. With improved reads and jumps he could steal 15-20 bases annually.
With his combination of offensive and defensive abilities, Johnson should have a big league future. If he proves he can hit MLB pitching enough to maintain his high on-base percentage, then he will have a chance to be a second division regular in center field. If his hitting slips a bit against stiffer competition then he should profile as a very nice fourth outfielder that can help in a variety of ways.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% AA
Johnson has been extremely durable throughout his career, without a hint of injury since turning pro.
Johnson enters minor league camp with a chance to land on either the Erie or Toledo roster as an everyday outfielder. His ultimate assignment will depend in large part on what direction the Tigers go with the minor league free agents signed this off-season.
At no point in time are the Tigers expected to begin making room for a player like Johnson, but if injuries strike he could get a big league look at any time in the next two years. He plays hard and his managers have always loved having him on the roster. If he makes a quick impression he could stick around and hold down a bench spot in Detroit for a while.
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