Friday, January 13, 2017

Braves Add Micah Johnson to the Mix

Keith Allison via Flickr CC 2.0
Last night, I read that Micah Johnson had been designated for assignment and immediately, my first thought was that he might make for a good target. Before I attempted to pen an article or send out a few tweets on the subject, I thought better of it. After all, is he that different from Jace Peterson?

Well, the Braves clearly liked him because today, they acquired the young speedster for either cash or a player to be named later. In addition, they agreed to arbitration with Arodys Vizcaino ($1.55M) and Ian Krol ($900K), which means the Braves will avoid an arbitration hearing.

So, who is Johnson? Born a week before Christmas in 1990, Johnson spent much of his life in Indiana. Undrafted out of high school, Johnson was selected in the ninth round in 2012 out of Indiana University-Bloomington and signed three days later. Quietly, he became a nifty prospect for the ChiSox with a big 2013 campaign that saw him play for three minor league squads and slash .312/.373/.451 with 24 doubles, 15 triples, 7 homers, and 84 steals. Those numbers were pretty legit as he played in the South Atlantic and Carolina Leagues for the majority of the season, which hardly boost your offensive numbers.

After a short-lived run in the Arizona Fall League, Johnson was off to a great start in the Southern League in 2014 before a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte of the International League. His numbers took a bit of a dive there as his struggled to get on base once his average dipped below .280. Whatever power he has shown the previous year all but disappeared as well. Injuries also limited him to just 102 games on the year.

Whatever troubles he had in 2014, he put them behind him with a big spring to beat out Carlos Sanchez for the opening day second base job. While he would maintain a .270 batting average through the season's first 30 games, his issues at the plate continued to haunt him. He walked just five times compared to 17 strikeouts. With his OPS hovering in the .630's, Johnson was sent to the minors. Back in Charlotte, Johnson was able to right the ship with a .315/.375/.466 run with 8 homers and 28 steals. He was brought back in September, but couldn't find any holes and struck out in 13 of 31 PA.

Just a few months after believing Johnson could be the answer at second base, the White Sox included Johnson in a three-team deal with the Dodgers and Reds which sent Todd Frazier to Chicago, Jose Peraza to the Reds, and Johnson and two other prospects out west. Injuries got him to the majors for a second consecutive season, but Johnson spent nearly all of the season in Oklahoma City. The results weren't much to write home about despite the hitter-friendly environment of the Pacific Coast League.

His .261/.321/.356 slash with 26 steals in 37 opportunities would eventually lead to being designated for assignment when Los Angeles needed a 40-man spot.

Johnson's minor league numbers are solid (.292/.357/.414), though his isolated slugging is all over the place. Some have suggested that his approach at the plate is inconsistent. When he's posted .137, .151, and higher isolated slugging marks, he does so in a way that might remind Braves fans of Marcus Giles. He loads his weight back, brings his front leg down, and torques his bottom half to maximize his power (first video to the right). That version of Johnson could bring some serious value to the table. At the same time, there is another Johnson who relies on bat control and a quick bat so that he can slap the ball (second video to the right). When watching video of the two swings, you might be convinced they are two different players.

Perhaps, White Sox coaches saw a fast player who should leg out grounders hit the other way and convinced him to cut down on his swing. Personally, I think that's a waste. While Johnson will never be a 20 HR/60 extra-base hit player, he has the potential to post double digit homerun seasons given the right amount of opportunities.

A left-handed hitter, Johnson does have traditional platoon splits with at least a 71-point difference in each season according to OPS in favor of facing right-handed pitchers. It's been especially pronounced the last two seasons.

Defensively, Johnson is a right-handed second baseman who has graded out average during his minor league career according to Clay Davenport's defensive metrics. It's been a bit ugly in the majors, but that's likely sample-size hurting him. Regardless, despite impressive speed, it appears that Johnson is going to max out as merely average defensively. Last year, similar to their attempts to turn Peraza into an outfielder, the Dodgers utilized Johnson as an outfielder and even gave him a little time at third base. His numbers in the outfield appear decent, but there's not enough data.

Johnson just turned 26 so he won't be on my prospect list, but he's got an intriguing skill set - especially if he's loading up for power. Where does he fit on this Braves roster? Well, he's a better bench option that Emilio Bonifacio. If the Braves don't add a fourth outfielder, Johnson could be part of the hybrid bench with either Sean Rodriguez or the aforementioned Jace Peterson as guys who can play both the infield and outfield. Johnson would also fit a role I liked for Mallex Smith - speedster off the bench for late-inning replacements. On the other hand, a less-than-overwhelming spring could ticket Johnson for a return to Triple-A, which would exhaust his final option.

Either way, the Braves added a potential bench player with some upside for peanuts. We'll see how this one turns out, but the chances it hurts any is minimal.

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