A ninth-round pick out of Indiana University in 2012, White Sox prospect Micah Johnson burst into the national consciousness in 2013 by dominating the South Atlantic League in the spring and finishing the season with a Minor League-leading 84 stolen bases (in 110 attempts).
Johnson hit a respectable .273/.375/.391 with four homers and 19 steals in his pro debut with Great Falls in 2012 before opening his full-season career with Class A Kannapolis last year. The second baseman was hot off the blocks in the Sally League, batting .342/.422/.530 with six homers, 42 RBIs, 40 walks and 61 stolen bases in 77 games with the Intimidators. He went on to earn MVP honors at the circuit's All-Star Game in June after singling, stealing two bags and scoring a run in the North Division's 2-1 win.
The Indianapolis native, who turned 24 in December, was less effective after promotions to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham but regained his swagger in the Southern League playoffs. Johnson hit .368/.467/.474 with seven stolen bases and 12 runs scored in 10 postseason games as the Barons won their first league title since 2002.
Johnson's Arizona Fall League campaign was cut short in October when he underwent surgery on his elbow. Fully recovered, he heads into Spring Training as MLB.com's No. 9 second base prospect.
MiLB.com: First of all, how's your elbow? You've had surgery twice now to move a nerve -- is that something that's likely to be a continuing problem?
Micah Johnson: It's all taken care of. The first time it wasn't done quite right, but I've been out in Arizona hitting for a couple weeks now and I'm 100 percent.
MiLB.com: You were out there briefly in October before undergoing the surgery -- what was playing in the Arizona Fall League like?
Johnson: It was a lot of fun. The crowds weren't very big, but it was great being out there with some of the best players in the game. I was concentrating on my defense, taking grounders every morning with our infield coach, and I was really getting in a groove and feeling confident before I had to stop.
MiLB.com: I understand that this offseason you've been playing fewer video games and instead playing piano and painting. How does that tie in to baseball?
Johnson: My issue isn't that I'm unathletic, but that I sometimes lose focus, especially on defense, and then I make an error. You know, if it's late in a doubleheader and we've got a big lead, I need to concentrate just as much as ever.
Playing piano and painting -- watercoloring is what I'm really into -- helps hone my focus. I can do that stuff for hours and the time just flies by. When you're painting, every choice you make affects the end result, so every detail is important.
MiLB.com: When you do play video games, what do you play?
Johnson: FIFA. I've got skills. Plus I'm a big soccer fan.
MiLB.com: What teams do you follow?
Johnson: I used to be into Aston Villa, then I followed Tottenham when [American] Clint Dempsey was there, but really I just like following the whole thing.
MiLB.com: You didn't really steal that many bases in college or even your first season as a pro with Great Falls. Are you a better base stealer now or is it more that you've gotten a green light?
Johnson: I think it's a little bit of both, but mainly it's just something I focused on this year. When I was at Indiana, I was happy getting a single or a double. But seeing what Billy Hamilton did [in 2012] really inspired me, seeing how many runs he created and the havoc he caused. I'm not the kind of guy who's going to hit a lot of home runs, so I needed to learn to use my speed better if I wanted to get to the big leagues.
MiLB.com: What are you looking for -- in a righty or a lefty -- when you're trying to get a jump?
Johnson: It depends on the pitcher. Some lift their front foot, some slide-step, some lean back or drop their shoulder. I study pitchers from the dugout to see if I can pick anything up about their moves. With lefties it's a little tougher -- going on first movement is sometimes just a risk you have to accept.
MiLB.com: You played in three different leagues last season, even before the Arizona Fall League. What were the big differences as you moved up?
Johnson: In "low A," it's actually harder to steal off the pitcher. Less experienced pitchers really worry about base runners. At higher levels, the guys hitting behind me were better and the pitchers had to worry more about them than me. Of course the catchers are better, too, but it's a little easier to get a jump on the pitcher.
From a batting standpoint, obviously the pitchers have better command the higher you go. It seems like they all have cutters, too.
MiLB.com: Do you have any particular goals for the upcoming season, like getting to 100 stolen bases?
Johnson: Stealing bases is fun, but scoring runs is what counts -- there's no point to stealing 100 if you only score 50 times. Scoring over 100 runs is a good goal.
MiLB.com: You ran track in high school -- even though I've heard you hated running. Did you play any other sports?
Johnson: I played soccer one year. And I learned that football was not for me. You know, it's cold and people are trying to hit you all the time. If you hit me and give me a charley horse, I don't want to play anymore.
MiLB.com: What was your team when you were a kid? Growing up in Indiana, I guess you could have gone several different ways.
Johnson: (Heavy sigh.) I was a big Cubs fan. And a huge Sammy Sosa fan. But since the White Sox drafted me, I'm not a Cubs fan anymore.
MiLB.com: And finally -- your Super Bowl pick?
Johnson: I have to go with Seattle. They've got the great defense, they've got Marshawn [Lynch] in the snow -- I don't see how they can be stopped. Peyton is throwing ducks these days and I don't think that's going to cut it in the wind. Seahawks to win -- and cover!