There's an adage in baseball that states "speed never slumps." Kannapolis second baseman Micah Johnson is making certain that statement remains true.
Through Tuesday's games, Johnson led the Minor Leagues with 35 stolen bases, seven more than second-place Rico Noel of San Antonio. He also was tied for fifth with 34 runs scored in his first 34 contests while creating havoc at the top of the Intimidators' lineup.
"I like stealing, especially when it puts you in scoring position after a walk or a single," Johnson said. "I've never really stolen that much until this year, but when I have, I've always had a pretty good success rate. This year I'm just trying to make things happen and score runs."
Selected in the ninth round out of Indiana University, Johnson was the fastest member of the White Sox's 2012 Draft class after being clocked at 6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash. He made his professional debut with Great Falls in the Pioneer League and proceeded to steal 19 bases in 25 attempts, good for sixth on the circuit. He also hit .273, with 19 of his 74 hits going for extra bases.
His initial exposure to the professional ranks made clear to Johnson where the strengths of his game resided. His athleticism stood out, which includes a quick first step and excellent acceleration. He focused on improving those advantages upon returning home and reported to Spring Training in the best shape of his life.
"This past offseason was my first one professionally," said Johnson, who owns a .303 batting average with 14 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs thus far in 2013. "I worked hard to get stronger, but I also realized that power is not ever going to be a big part of my game. I realized I could make a difference by running, and I worked really hard on that this past winter. Everyone has a role, and as I get older, I'm finding out what my role is as the leadoff hitter."
Johnson hit .312 as a freshman with the Hoosiers and .335 as a sophomore while stealing 19 bases and leading the team with 43 runs during the latter campaign. A preseason All-American prior to the 2012 slate, Johnson tried to play through an elbow injury and batted just .225 in his first 20 starts as a junior. He wound up missing the last half of the season after undergoing surgery on his elbow, which caused him to fall in the Draft. Despite the late setback, Johnson feels he learned how to prepare for the game while in college.
"Indiana is one of the cold-weather states and schools, so you learn how to work inside for much of the year," Johnson said. "I learned how to find time and do a lot of work on my own while staying motivated."
Johnson's speed and quickness are also evident on defense. A third baseman early in his college career before making the move to second, he has made impressive progress with his footwork, particularly in turning the double play. He also has adhered to the advice of the coaches and rovers by getting into a pregame routine in order to become a better defender.
"My defense at second is still a work in progress," Johnson said. "I'm working hard to shore up my play there. I've had some errors, but they're fixable errors. Most of them have come when I've rushed and tried to make some plays that weren't there. I'm learning how to play the game under control, smooth and relaxed. The more games I play, the more I realize how much time I have at second base."
Two saviors: Augusta's Tyler Mizenko and Rome's Shae Simmons are tied atop the South Atlantic League charts with 11 saves apiece. That total is only one off the pace for the Minor Leagues, currently held by Columbus' Preston Guilmet and Fresno's Heath Hembree.
New official Jackets: The GreenJackets officially received their new ownership group May 13 when Agon Sports and Entertainment took the reins from Ripken Baseball, which owned the club for seven years. The new owners have deep local and regional ties and take over a franchise that is celebrating its 25th season in Augusta. The group's focus now will center on building a new ballpark in North Augusta as part of the Project Jackson plan that was introduced in December.
Butler keeps doing it: For the third time this season, Asheville pitcher Eddie Butler limited the opposition to just one hit when he tossed 7 1/3 innings against Greenville on May 13. Butler, who struck out eight and did not walk a batter in the 1-0 victory, has surrendered only 19 hits in 48 1/3 innings pitched this season.