Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Kelly Comes Home

It's worth noting that, yes, I do know that Kelly Johnson was born in Texas, but nobody likes a stickler for details so run with the title of this post dammit.

I have probably mentioned this before and if we go way back, you need no reminding, but I was a big fan of Kelly Johnson as he climbed up the ladder to the majors. The 38th overall pick of the 2000 draft struck out a lot, but he fulfilled my elementary understanding of Moneyball. This is when I point to Peter Brand and he says "he gets on base." After signing with the Braves, Johnson went to Macon in 2001 and set the friggin world on fire with a .289/.404/.513 campaign. He played shortstop, but most agreed that he lacked the necessary defensive skills for the position. Besides, the Braves had Rafael Furcal who surely would a Brave for another ten years anyway. KJ's bat would play up everywhere.

So what if his OPS fell 199 points in 2002. That was that infamous wind in Myrtle Beach's fault. And who cares that in an injury-marred 2003 year with Greenville, Kelly popped just six homers. It would be okay.

Hello, my name is Tommy and I have a man crush.

KJ would bounce back in a second season with Greenville before destroying the International League ahead of his late May, 2005 promotion. Yep, he was a Baby Brave. Here's a fun fact...KJ batted third in his first game. He moved Chipper Jones to cleanup. If that doesn't give you reason to think KJ was considered a future big time player for the Braves, I don't know what will. Another fun fact. Kelly went 1 for his first 30 during his first eleven games before going off on an eleven game hit streak where he belted a trio of homers. It was the first validation for a common complaint by those who hate a good thing. "He's too streaky!"

Kelly would eventually settle into a lower spot in the order and hit .241/.334/.397 for the year while playing left field. It wasn't a particularly wonderful season, I'll grant you, but the rookie didn't embarrass himself even though Bobby Cox benched him in the playoffs. Naturally, the Braves lost. Just sayin'...

Even though he wasn't a pitcher, Keller missed 2006 with Tommy John probably out of sympathy. In 2007, with second base open after Marcus Giles was let go, Kelly moved to second base with the help of Glenn Hubbard to prepare for the season and claimed the second base job and even the leadoff spot. What followed was a remarkable season where he slashed .276/.375/.457, reached doubled digits in 2B-3B-HRs, and walked 79 times. He did have his defensive mistakes as he struggled with getting his glove in the proper spot on balls to his right, but not many 2B post an .831 OPS. Or even the .795 OPS he followed up the year with while foolishly taking the advice of Terry Pendleton to be "more aggressive." Why mess with a good thing? How many times can I call KJ a "good thing?"

I'd skip talking about 2009, but since it was his final year with the Braves...well, KJ sucked. His batting average hovered around .220 and his OPS was a hundred points lower than the previous year. At the same time, some usurper named Martin Prado took his spot. What nerve! The Braves decided paying Kelly over $3M was not "financially responsible" or some other crap that your parents tell you when you want a new iPad.

He left for the Desert and had a wonderful season just to show off. The D'Backs sent him north of the border because KJ decided he would start a nomadic experience in the AL East, playing for the Jays, Rays, and in one year, completed the "American Tail" by playing in the Bronx, Boston, and Baltimore just because he was in such high demand.

In all seriousness, Kelly has a tough road to make the 2015 Braves, though why the hell not give him a chance? He has moved into the utility stage of his career and last season played first, second, and third base along with the corner outfield slots. That kind of versatility is valuable. On a minor league deal, it's a worthwhile gamble. And frankly, as you can tell by my irrational love for the guy, I hope he makes it and succeeds. After this offseason, I could use some awesome news. Thanks for throwing people like me a bone, John Hart.

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