Daniel Johnson OF Hagerstown Suns
Future Grades Hit (40) / Power (45) / Run (65) / Defense (60) / Arm (65)
Washington’s 5th round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft from New Mexico State, signed for a $325,000 bonus. Born in July 1995, Johnson is a left-handed hitting, left-handed throwing outfielder. Listed at 5-10 185lbs, Johnson is a well-built, thick athlete and looks more similarly to a Division-1 point guard than a typical baseball player. His muscles seem to have muscles, so he looks fully mature physically with little projection remaining. Johnson has excellent speed, routinely clocking 4.07-4.11 seconds home to first from the left side, making him an easy plus runner. Consistently smiling on the field, Johnson seems quite affable and popular with his teammates, which along with his hustle leads me to believe he has quality makeup.
Defensively Johnson has spent time at all three outfield positions, but his impressive raw speed and cannon-like arm has him profile best in center field, where he projects as an above-average to plus defender. He does need more experience in center field to improve his routes and instincts, as he has split time with Nationals’ prospect Blake Perkins this season. However, aside from experience, there is little reason to believe he will not be a terrific defensive outfielder.
At the plate the left-hand hitting Johnson displays loose lithe wrists and impressive bat speed, whipping the barrel through the strike zone like a child with a stick. He sets his hands near his heart and uses a small-to-medium leg kick to trigger his swing. His has a small wrist wrap which lengthens his already longish swing, causing some swing-and-miss in his game. I have seen him struggle with velocity up-and-away, in addition to recognizing and hitting spin on the inner-third of the plate.
Johnson shows natural raw power, especially to the pull side, both in batting practice and in game action. Additionally, he punishes the baseball into the gaps, where he utilizes his speed to gather doubles and triples. However, he does not steal many bases and looks unrefined in doing so, failing to capitalize on his speed to create havoc. Johnson needs to refine his swing mechanics, which will help quiet his body down and allow him to make more contact. I have some concerns with his hit tool, but I can envision a future .245-.260 hitter with 12-17 home runs if things truly come together for Johnson.
After a somewhat underwhelming stat line last summer, Johnson has emerged for Hagerstown this season and become the hottest prospect in Washington’s farm system. Defensively, Johnson needs experience in center field, but his plus speed and powerful arm allow him to project as a future plus defender. At the plate, there is legitimate raw power in his bat and the aptitude to spray line drives all over the field. If he can tame the strikeouts and make more contact, he could profile as a slugging #6 or #7 hitter.
Johnson is still raw and needs plenty of game experience, but his impressive physical tools are beginning to blossom into a quality baseball prospect. His speed, defensive versatility and skills, plus his left-handed raw power should give Johnson a floor as a #5 outfielder or Quad-A player. However, if his skills continue to flourish, Johnson has the ceiling of a league-average two-way major league centerfielder. Johnson is a top-10 prospect currently in the Nationals’ system and will be a coveted name in trade discussions this summer.