GLENDALE, Ariz. -- To improve his defense this offseason Micah Johnson put down the video game controller and played musical instruments.
The White Sox prospect -- the No. 9 rated minor-league second baseman by MLB.com -- said the focus needed to play 4-5 minute songs on a piano and a guitar can benefit him in the field.
So instead of “Call of Duty” or “Madden 25,” Johnson turned to Mozart and Celine Dion to strengthen his focus. Already he sees a difference taking grounders in infield practice this spring and believes it will carry over in games.
“Reading sheet music, you just learn how to really focus in on something,” Johnson said. “Guitar is the same. I was playing a lot of video games in the past and video games for me are mindless. They don’t require anything. Out here now, groundball drills, I can really focus and get my work in and I can see where it’s helped.”
Headed into his second full season with the White Sox, Johnson, a ninth-round pick in the 2012 draft, has a lot of qualities the organization likes.
His speed led to 84 stolen bases in the regular season in 2013 and seven more in 10 postseason games. His leadership helped contribute to Double-A Birmingham’s Southern League title even though he’d only been in town for just a few weeks. And his improved ability to drive the ball led to 46 extra-base hits.
One of the few areas Johnson needs to improve upon is defense. Though he has great range, Johnson committed 29 errors last season. Player development director Nick Capra said routine plays have been a bigger issue than tough ones for Johnson.
But the White Sox have no doubt Johnson will be at least an adequate defender by the time he reaches the majors. And it’s all about what’s within Johnson’s head that gives the club confidence.
“He has got a super mentality,” Capra said. “He’s one of those guys you love to have because there’s no highs and there’s no lows. He’s the same kid whether he goes 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. In the history of the game, the guys you see that can do that and not take the game home with them at night are the guys that really have a chance to succeed.”
Robin Ventura said he’s excited to see what Johnson can do this spring. He’d heard about Johnson’s skillset last season but wants to see what he’s made of, the things you can’t see on a scouting report.
So far, so good.
“He’s got a lot of tools,” Ventura said. “It’s nice to get down here and see them play and be able to evaluate. You also get to know them and the intensity and intangibles that you can’t ever see written on a piece of paper.”
While the intensity is there on the field, music has given Johnson an avenue for relaxation off it.
He prefers the piano, which he learned to play when he was 4 or 5, to guitar, which he picked up in sixth grade. Johnson said his family is full of musicians as both his mother and grandmother play at church. The three often play together with Johnson on guitar, his mom on the piano and his grandmother on an organ.
Never one for lessons -- “they’re like punishment” he said -- Johnson is self-taught on the piano. Some of his favorite pieces include Mozart’s “Moonlight Sonata” and Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” He likes the classics, modern songs and western music.
“I used to be more high-strung and really geeked out on things,” Johnson said. “With this it teaches you to relax. It really is so relaxing. You get lost in it. People who play piano in concerts, they’re in a whole other world.”
Johnson hopes his relaxed state takes his glove to another level. He feels the improved focus will give him something he lacked before.
Even though he’s changed his mental preparation, Johnson still finds a little time for video games.
After all, there’s a lot of time on the road to kill.
“I didn’t cut video games out,” Johnson said. “I’m still really good at FIFA. But I’ll play those at night when my girlfriend goes to sleep or during the day when I have nothing to do. … You can play forever.”