Prospect Q&A: Nationals' Daniel Johnson

March 19th, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Nationals camp, it was Washington's No. 9 prospect, Daniel Johnson.
Unrecruited out of high school, Johnson had to work his way from junior college and walk his way on to the New Mexico State team. Even after a huge junior year (.382/.434/.630), he flew under the Draft radar. The Nationals saw enough in him to take him in the fifth round of the 2016 Draft and he rewarded their faith by playing across two levels of A ball and turning in a 20-20 season. He capped things off by taking advantage of an opening in the Arizona Fall League created when was put on the Division Series roster in Washington.
• Nationals' camp report
MLB Pipeline: Last year, it was your first Spring Training and you were maybe unsure of what your first year would be like, what to expect. Now, after the year you had, and you're more comfortable in the pro game, does it feel much different?
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
Johnson: The transition is the biggest thing. Coming in to my second Spring Training, knowing what I have to do, I'm more organized. I'm not panicking, running around wondering where to go. The year I had, I don't want to say it solidified me, but it made me feel a lot more comfortable after that transition from college to the pros. I'm more prepared for the next season.
MLB Pipeline: You were able to get some at-bats in some big league games this spring. What was that experience like?
Johnson: I think it was like the Fall League, honestly. I pretty much faced the same guys towards the end of the game. It wasn't overwhelming. I didn't want to think about it too much. I just went in there to do what I usually do.
MLB Pipeline: You started your first full season in 2017 in Low A and got promoted to High A. What were the differences you saw in the levels?
Johnson: Really, I didn't see a big difference between Low A and High A. There were more strikes, but pitching-wise, velocity, it was all the same to me. I thought a bigger difference was going from High A to the Fall League and facing those guys. That was a little bit of an adjustment to make.
MLB Pipeline: Overall, I would imagine your Fall League experience was great, especially since you didn't know you were going until somewhat last minute. What did you take away from the experience overall?
Johnson: I took a lot away from it, adjustments that I needed to make. Offensively, defensively, the pace of the game, things like that. The overall experience will really help me for this next season.
MLB Pipeline: From that Fall League experience, as you get ready to hit the upper levels, what are some of the things you realized you needed to work on to continue having success?
Johnson: Offensively, being ready to hit all of the time and really being disciplined. Pitchers know how to pitch, so you may get a fastball and if you don't swing, you might not get that again. You really have to have an approach up there and really know what you want to do.
MLB Pipeline: You've had to prove yourself everywhere you've had to go. You weren't recruited out of high school and you weren't a big Draft prospect, either. Do you have a chip on your shoulder about it that motivates you, or did you just say, "If this is how it's going to be, then this is how it's going to be?"
Johnson: Pretty much I just go with the flow. If that's how it's going to be, then we can do it the hard way. It doesn't matter to me; I don't mind proving myself. Adversity has always been a key part of me being successful, so it's a self-motivation type of thing that gets me going.
MLB Pipeline: There must have been certain points of time where you said to yourself, "What do I have to do to get noticed?"
Johnson: It was always like that. In high school, I wasn't heavily recruited by any Division I schools. Even in college, I was still a walk-on. It was always, "What can be that one thing I will do that will get somebody's attention?" Having that mindset really helped me to keep working hard at every aspect of the game.
MLB Pipeline: The Nationals are the ones who have thought the most highly of you by taking you in the Draft. Do you feel you need to go out and prove they were right to believe in you?
Johnson: Part of me wants to prove them right, but at the same time, I just want to keep playing my game. I don't want to try to do more than I usually do.
MLB Pipeline: When you entered pro ball, you were a guy people noticed had top-of-the-scale speed, and maybe you had some pop. Then you went out and had a 20-20 season. Were you even surprised by your power output in 2017?
Johnson: I knew I always had power, but I think I figured out how to use it and how to use my whole body, that connection when swinging the bat. I think that's what I really figured out, one thing that really helped me.
MLB Pipeline: So are you still a speed guy with some power, or are you a power-speed guy now?
Johnson: I'm definitely a speed guy with some power. I'm not going to go out there and try to give you 20 more homers. If it happens, it happens. But I want to get on base, steal bases and run down balls in the outfield.