After a slow start, Frederick Keys third baseman Tripper Johnson warmed up with the weather this summer, slugging the ball throughout the month of June to earn Carolina League player of the month. The 22-year-old from Bellevue, Wash., hit .355 in June (33 for 93) with a league-best eight home runs and 23 RBI in 25 games. That torrid stretch helped raise his batting average from .250 to its current mark of .282.

The 32nd overall selection in the 2000 draft, Johnson credits his recent run of productivity to a more relaxed approach at the plate.

"It hit me one day that I was working too hard and stressing, just putting way too much pressure on myself," he said. "So I just told myself to 'try easier,' which goes along with relaxing and doing well."

Johnson said he and teammate Woody Cliffords have a motto: "Let's see how easy we can hit the ball hard."

The approach appears to be paying off for both players. Cliffords is batting a team-high .345 with 15 doubles, and Johnson ranks among the top 10 in the Carolina League in four offensive categories. Through Saturday he was tied for fourth with 15 home runs and tied for eighth in the league with 30 extra-base hits. He was also ninth in RBI (49) and 10th in slugging percentage (.498).

Johnson is in his second season with the Keys and his fifth season of professional baseball. Last year with Frederick he hit .273 with only five home runs but has found his power stroke this season. He knows that as a third baseman he will be counted on to hit with power if he is to progress through the Orioles' system.

"I made a couple of minor changes in the offseason, but I think age and experience have a lot to do with" hitting for more power, he said.

"I have two goals every year that I set by spring training: Number one is to stay healthy, and number two is to get better every year. If I can accomplish those goals it will put me in a good situation to move up or just get better at the game."