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Interview with Michael Johns, Charlotte Stone Crabs manager

photo by Tom Hagerty

Charlotte Stone Crabs manager Michael Johns has made the rounds in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Entering his eighth season in the Rays organization, he’s managed Class-A Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League (short season), Class-A Bowling Green in the Midwest League, and this year manages High-A Charlotte in the Florida State League, replacing Jared Sandberg, who’s now managing Triple-A Durham. That history gives Johns an intimate, in-depth knowledge of some of Tampa Bay's top prospects, as well as emerging prospects developing better than perhaps was expected.

He spoke before a game about the top guys on his roster, as well as emerging players making their mark.

Jake Bauers – He was in our league last year and he played really well. You see guys you really like and write them up, and he was a guy we really liked. We didn’t get him out much. He hit leftys and rightys. He’s a really good defender and I think he’s going to hit for power. Last year his numbers were a little bit down in terms of power. I always thought he had the ability to hit for power as he moves up. He’s everything you want in a first baseman. The biggest thing that stood out for me was he hit lefthanders; he stays in on lefthanders and not a lot of lefthanders can do that. If he wasn’t the best hitter in the league, he was in the top two or three. When they called about the trade, me and the staff were all in on him. You’re going to see him hit for a lot higher average. He’s getting pitched tough this year. And he’s only nineteen, so he’s really young for that league. He’s not used to guys throwing him off-speed pitches in fastball counts. He’s a really good teammate. He’s as advertised.

Bauers Approach… I would say physically and technique-wise he’s good. He sinks into his legs, uses his legs, he’s got really good hands. The thing he’s going to have to adjust to what pitchers are going to do to him. Teams don’t want him to beat them, and he’s one of the guys in our lineup that can beat them. He can beat them with the long ball or two-strikes.

Ryne Stanek- He’s good stuff. Good easy fastball. Good secondary stuff, good makeup on the mound, does if he doesn’t like a call or there’s an error. He keeps pitching and competes. Really good teammate. He’s going to be good.

On Blake Snell, when asked the key to his success: His command. If he throws strkes he’s as good as anybody. He’s got three above average pitches, fastball and secondary. His thing his whole career is command. Three years I’ve had him, seen him develop on and off the mound. More mature. Left that can get it 92, 93 and spin the ball is going to be special. His last outing wasn’t as good as his first two. He’s our ace right now. [Note: Snell was promoted to Double-A Birmingham two days later]

When asked which players have made the most progress: Jacob Faria, come along way. Princeton numbers not really good. They gotta go through growing pains. He grew from it, matured. He has extremely good character. He pitches to contact. He’s come far. Stands out more than anybody. Blake Snell as well. Sometimes you don't see the forest for the trees, but when you stand back you see how much they’ve developed. It’s fun to watch them. This is why we do what they do. It’s why they do what they do. It doesn’t happen for everybody. Not everyone makes the adjustments like they have. I’ve had [Yoel] Araujo for two years, [Kean] Wong for two years…[Armando] Araiza, [Juniel] Querecuto. They’ve become better baseball players, better people.

On the difference between managing in Midwest League and Florida State League: Two things, one you have to be smart about the amount of work you do before the game. We’ve gotta be careful. These guys are young. It’s hot here. At the end of the day the most important is being ready at 6:30. We have to have them fresh. Two, It’s better baseball. I’ll give you an example. Stealing bags at Appalachian League, New York Penn League, even Midwest League, was a lot easier than now. Guys are slower to the plate, catchers didn’t throw as well, and infielders miss balls. It doesn’t happen here. That’s a microcosm of what it’s like. Pitchers pitch backwards. They throw breaking stuff in fastball counts. Guys have seen a lot of these guys. It’s who make the adjustments at this level.