Mar 3, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians base runner Elliot Johnson (right) slides safely into third ahead of the tag by Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre in a spring training game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Does Elliot Johnson Deserve a Roster Spot?


Elliot Johnson Doing Everything to Make Opening Day Roster

Every spring, players come out of nowhere to make Opening Day rosters all across baseball. For the Indians, it was Jack Hannahan in 2011 and 2012 and then Ryan Raburn in 2013. This season, another new name has risen from the shadows and is making a serious case for a spot on the Opening Day roster. Of course, I’m talking about utility infielder Elliot Johnson.

For much of this spring, Johnson has been on an absolute tear at the plate. While spring training stats need to be taken with a grain of salt, it’s a small sample size mine field, Johnson’s performance thus far has been too good to ignore. Since day one, all he’s done is hit. And not just that, he’s hit for power, something the Indians could desperately use.

To date, Elliot Johnson is batting .429/.455/.905 with 2 home runs, 2 triples, and 6 RBI. Everytime the Indians have played a game, it seems as if Johnson is making a positive impact on the outcome. His performance has been so good that when it comes time to make final roster cuts, Terry Francona and his coaching staff may find it very hard to let him go.

However, one has to be suspicious of Johnson’s performance. This is very much out of character in comparison to how Elliot Johnson has performed historically. For his career, Johnson is only a .218/.273/.592 hitter in 730 at bats spanning over four seasons with the Rays, Royals, and Braves. It’s for that reason that the small sample size red alarm should be going off in everyone’s head as they analyze Johnson’s spring performance. The player we are seeing right now might not be the player we see once the games begin to count for real.

But, what Elliot Johnson might lack in offensive production over the course of the season, he can more than make up for it with his versatility. Throughout his time in the big leagues, Johnson has played every position with the exception of pitcher and catcher. It’s that type of extreme versatility that could help keep Johnson on the roster beyond spring training. Terry Francona enjoys shuffling lineups and giving guys days off whenever he can. Having Johnson, a competent defender at most positions, available to serve as a fill in from time to time across the diamond is an asset.

Whether or not Elliot Johnson makes the roster actually remains to be seen. While he has done everything in his power to make the decision a difficult one for the coaching staff, the truth of the matter is that he is competing for what is likely to be only one open spot. Selecting Johnson is likely going to come down to what type of player they are looking at in order to fill that role. But again, Johnson’s versatility should help him no matter what they decide, unless of course they opt to carry a third catcher.

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