Spring training represents many things. For me, it represents my favorite time of year. For professional ballplayers, it means going to work. For some of those players, it represents hope.
Every year, you have your locks, the guys you know will be there. On the other hand, you have guys on the 40 man trying to make the big league club for the first time. On the other other hand, you have the non roster guys. For these guys, it is very hard to make the team. This is because this player needs to have enough upside to displace someone from the 40 man roster. This is often a huge gamble.
For context, last year, one of those players was Rickie Weeks. That one didn’t pay off… But the other one, Jesus Sucre, did. Weeks was cut after a lengthy DL stint, and Jesus Sucre ended up being more valuable than Wilson Ramos.
With that, this series of posts will bring to light a few names you may, or may not, get to know this baseball season. First up: Micah Johnson
Johnson was a former top prospect with both the White Sox and then the Dodgers. His talents, though, which include a solid glove at 2nd base and elite speed (He’s stolen as many as 84 bases in the minors), haven’t translated in the major leagues. In 3 small stints with Chicago, LA and most recently Atlanta, Johnson has mustered only a .224/.291/.259 slash with no career home runs.
What’s baffling about Johnson is that he’s strong. At 6 feet and 210 pounds, he’s stocky. Yet, he’s shown little to no power. So, why do I think he can make the team? Because of this.
Johnson, like so many, are realizing the impact of elevating the ball. Exit velocity and launch angle are the latest trend and hitters are redefining their careers because of it. He, too, is committed to it. He wants to hit for power. With Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola, he might have a good match. He helped Logan Morrison and Colby Rasmus do this very thing. With a little more pop in his bat, he has the potential to be our Chris Taylor.
Taylor, like Johnson, was a prospect with plus speed whose power vanished when he got to the majors. He was a middle infielder turned center fielder, something Johnson could easily do. Before the 2017 season, he had just 1 career big league home run. In ’17, he exploded for 21. He didn’t hit the weight room, though, he simply added a leg kick and a slight lift to his swing. If Johnson can do this, the Rays may be able to extract some value here.
So where does he fit on the major league roster? Well, that’s somewhat up to him. Second and third base are both pretty wide open, and the fragility of Matt Duffy, while healthy now, is well known. If he is open to converting to the outfield, there’s no reason to believe that he couldn’t be a competent center fielder right now. This would give the team some insurance if Kiermaier goes down and Mallex Smith needs some rest. The Rays, as we know, love versatility.
Basically, if Johnson hits, he has a spot.