Quick quiz... who is leading all of major and minor league baseball in stolen bases?
Speedster Billy Hamilton (Reds AAA) you say? Nope. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox)? Not even close.
The answer: Micah Johnson, second baseman for the Kannapolis Intimidators (Class A White Sox). Johnson has swiped 54 bases in 66 games so far this season (70 attempts), and is on pace for over 100 steals. He's also one of the minor league leaders in runs scored (64), thanks to those stolen bases combined with a very good .422 OBP. Micah creates runs for his team, and that's his goal, every day. So far he appears to be achieving that goal with room to spare, and his name is rising quickly up top prospect lists this summer.
I had a chance to talk with Micah about stolen bases, ulnar nerves and beer league softball. Here are some highlights...
FutureSox (FS): Your speed has gotten a lot of attention, but how much of your success in stealing bases would you say is raw speed, versus technique or analyzing pitchers?
Micah Johnson (MJ): At the beginning of the season it was probably like 80% just speed and good jumps. But as teams started figuring it out, and pitchers adjusted, now it is more about being smart. I'm not the fastest guy in the league, so especially now that they know me, I have to be smarter.
FS: Taking a few steps back, you had an injury in college that caused you to miss some time. Could you tell us about that, and the recovery?
MJ: Yeah, my "funny bone" nerve, I think its the ulnar nerve, was pretty badly damaged. It happened on the Cape [Cape Cod League] the summer after my sophomore year. They thought it was tendinitis at first, so they just kept playing me. But it got really bad, to where I couldn't even use a video game controller, that's when I knew it was bad. I started losing some feeling in there. They had to do surgery really fast, because it can lead to permanent loss of use if you don't fix it quick. They removed the tendon to the tricep. I missed my junior year recovering.
FS: Looking at how far you've come since then, is there any particular part of your game that you are most proud of?
MJ: I like the fact that I can create something and score runs. Steals for stats is one thing, but translating that into runs and helping the team is great. Like in the All Star Game (SAL ASG from June 18th), when I stole second, and third, and then scored the winning run. I like finding ways to create runs.
FS: On the flip side of that, is there anything in particular you are working to improve right now? That the Sox or the coaches have you focused on?
MJ: Everyone knows my defense, the errors. The thing about that is, at the beginning of the season, I was trying to do too much. I'd make a diving play, but then throw it away off balance. Tried to do things too fast. I wasn't booting a bunch of ground balls or anything. But the past month, I've been really focused on that, trying to slow the game down and let it come to me. Just focus on every pitch, and I think its been better.
FS: Continuing the topic of development, do you have any goals for this season?
MJ: Well, I'd like to get over a hundred runs, and maybe over a hundred steals, that would be a good year for me. The power will be there, if it happens it happens. I'm still focused on defense, making fewer errors. So I want to see how many games I can go without an error.
FS: If you could play any position on the field other than second base, what would it be?
MJ: Pitcher. You can control the game, win or lose it's you. You can be the best hitter in the world but still get out 7 out of 10 times, but if you are pitching, you can dominate a game.
FS: Have the White Sox given you any sort of plan or road map for your next few years? Lots of people are asking why you aren't in Winston-Salem yet.
MJ: You just play, you don't hear much about that. I'm at Kannapolis right now, just playing for today. If you get called up, it's a surprise. You can get caught up in all that. Obviously I'd love that, but, I just play it day to day.
FS: Best baseball movie?
MJ: Oh, not sure it's really baseball, but I'd go with Beer League. Its about these beer league softball players in New Jersey, with Artie Lange in it, really funny. Maybe that's not really a baseball movie, I guess I'd say Major League.
FS: If you could tell the Sox and Intimidators fans out there anything, open microphone, what would it be?
MJ: I don't steal bases to break records. I do it to help my team win, every game. I steal to score runs.
Here is a quick link to Micah Johnson's MiLB Profile page, where you can keep up with his stats for the year.
Big thanks to Micah for taking the time to speak with FutureSox!