It is hard to believe that Ben Johnson, at the tender age of 24, has played for the Double-A Mobile BayBears in each of the past three years. After the year he had last year, it is no surprise that Padres’ manager Bruce Bochy is singing his praises and general manager Kevin Towers has his number dialed up in case of injury.
“Ben Johnson has finally emerged,” Towers said from spring training in Peoria.
Towers even went so far as to say Johnson could be the answer in centerfield if Dave Roberts was lost for a significant period of time. High praise for a kid who hit just .181 in 2003 for Mobile.
But 2004 was a far different beast, sort of. It didn’t start off all that well for Johnson but by midseason something finally clicked. He was actually hitting .218 at the end of June. – a month where he batted just .193.
But then something happened on the way to a demotion. Johnson began to hit. He began to really hit.
He turned the Southern League into his own personal playground, hitting .305 in July and smacking a Southern League leading 12 homers in the second half of the year.
He ended the year with 23 homers and 85 RBI’s, while batting .251. His RBI total placed him second in the league, five behind leader Josh Barfield and his .480 slugging percentage was eighth-best in the league.
Johnson followed up his season in Mobile by tearing up the Arizona Fall League. He hit .325 with an on base percentage of .400, smacking five homers and driving in 23 runs, most of that coming from the leadoff spot.
“This guy has been slowly coming,” Tye Waller, the Padres’ Director of Player Development, said. “Now you see a more confident player. He is finding out he can compete day in and day out. He never gave up. He is a tremendous worker with tremendous tools. It is just a matter of him putting together consistent at bats.”
He did just that during spring training. Johnson, in 11 games, hit .353 – collecting six hits in 17 at bats.
“He is starting to become what we talked about with Josh (Barfield) – clutch,” said Waller. “When things are on the line he will come through.”
Johnson played every position in the outfield for Mobile in 2004, spending the majority of time in right but getting the nod 14 times in centerfield and 35 times in left field.
“He is finding out a lot more about himself,” Waller added. “I am hoping that he can build from that.”
Based on his numbers from early spring, it looks like he already has.