I’m not sure this warrants its own entry, but I’ve been tracking Ben Johnson for a long time so here you go. He made his big-league debut Sunday afternoon, as a LIDR for Ryan Klesko in left field. Johnson, recalled from Portland to replace the disabled Phil Nevin, was drafted in the 4th round by the Cardinals back in 1999. He was acquired from St. Louis, along with Heathcliff Slocumb, for Carlos Hernandez and Nate Tebbs in July 2000. The story goes that the Padres asked for Albert Pujols, but had to settle for Johnson instead.
Johnson at one point was a fine prospect in his own right. When I saw him play at Elsinore in 2001, he was primarily a right fielder. Here are some notes from then (I’ve included links because some of you might be interested to read what I had to say about guys like Xavier Nady, Jake Peavy, and Oliver Perez back in the day):
A tremendous athlete, Johnson reminds me a little of Andruw Jones at the plate. He hangs over the plate and tends to swing at bad pitches early in the count. He already draws a fair amount of walks, and he’s very young; if he ever learns to be a bit more selective, Johnson could be a serious offensive threat. (9 Jul 2001)
Ben Johnson made a terrific throw from right field to keep a runner from scoring. This is not the first time I’ve been impressed by his arm. He’s also got a very quick bat but he needs to work the count better to take advantage of it. He swings a lot early in the count and then ends up either striking out or hitting a pitcher’s pitch. Johnson’s numbers are nice in and of themselves; taking into consideration his youth and relatively crude approach, they’re even more impressive. If he learns how to wait for his pitch, he could be a scary, scary hitter. (23 Jul 2001)
Johnson is an excellent athlete who has a good mix of power and speed. He will take a walk but hits from behind in the count too often; also, his swing sometimes gets a shade long. In the field, the former high school football star features a strong arm and decent range, although he is sometimes erratic, which is not unusual for such a young player. If he gains better control of the strike zone and settles down in the field, Johnson could be a fixture in right field and the #5 hole for the Padres by late 2003. His upside is roughly a cross between Andruw Jones and Brian Jordan. (18 Jan 2002)
Highly touted coming into last season by many observers (myself included), Johnson slipped a bit in 2002. More accurately, he didn’t show any development. The tools that made Johnson a prospect are still there: He draws walks, he’s strong, and he runs well. The bad news is that he isn’t hitting for average, his strength isn’t translating into much power, and his speed isn’t translating into stolen bases. The good news is that his plate discipline is improving. His walk rate went up and his strikeout rate fell even as he moved up a level (PA is AB + BB in this case):
PA ISO BB/PA SO/PA 2001 557 .165 .097 .253 2002 521 .134 .125 .244
The other good news is that Johnson is only 22 years old, so he’s got time to learn how to put his tools to use. The Padres left him off the 40-man roster this winter but he went unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft. Johnson probably would benefit by at least starting the season at Double-A but the Pads have been fairly aggressive in promoting their toolsy prospects of late (see their handling of Vince Faison, for example), so it’s more likely that he’ll spend the year at Portland. If he can learn to use his strength, Johnson still could turn into another Brian Jordan. But I don’t like his chances now as much as I did at this time last year. (8 Jan 2003)
I have no idea what to make of Johnson anymore. He’s got a boatload of talent but it’s taking him forever to learn how to use it. (2 Nov 2004)
I still don’t know what to make of Johnson. But I’ll be pulling for him.