Mar 11, 2014; Lakeland, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Dan Johnson (16) works out prior to the game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Every once in a while, a non-roster invitee makes some noise in spring training and turns some heads along the way. This year, that guy is Dan Johnson, who has quietly been a force at the plate for the Toronto Blue Jays this spring.
Of course, spring training statistics come with the proverbial grain of salt and Johnson’s are no different. A sample size of 27 plate appearances is hardly large enough to judge a player’s contribution level over the course of an entire season, and as such isn’t significant enough to justify adding a career journeyman over a more established player. Then you consider that the competition level he’s faced is has an Opponent QWuality Rating of 8.1 (Baseball-Reference), and you wonder if it’s because he a 4-A hitter beating up Triple-A pitching. Still, Johnson has been raking to the tune of .360/.370/.760 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI in those 27 plate appearances, so he is making the most of his opportunity.
Quite honestly, given the lack of bench depth the Blue Jays will carry into the season, Johnson’s spring performance may have been enough to justify his addition to the roster if not for one inherent flaw: he is a left-handed hitter.
Given Toronto’s need to have a possible platoon partner for Adam Lind, Johnson’s ability to hit from the same side of the plate puts a little bit of a damper on his ability to make the club as that piece. However, Johnson’s splits would indicate that while he sacrifices the home run ball, he is almost an identical hitter against both left and right-handed pitching.
That said, Johnson also has defensive limitations, having spent most of his career as a first baseman or a designated hitter. Then there is Toronto’s desire to carry an 8-man bullpen to start the season, something that reduces the available bench slots by one and further inhibits Johnson’s ability to make the team out of camp.
However, if we are looking at the waiver addition of Matt Tuiasosopo as a possible precursor to making another move, wouldn’t Johnson’s presence on a minor league deal also lend Toronto the same flexibility? Should the team move Lind, having Johnson waiting in the wings at Triple-A Buffalo would allow the team to continue to look at moving Adam Lind in a package for pitching if such a deal were to arise.
That doesn’t mean that Johnson would give Toronto what Adam Lind already brings for the Blue Jays, as his career track record would indicate that he’d be a steep downgrade in the line-up. But if Toronto were to move Lind, they’d need to have some fallback option in place, and right now Johnson appears to be it. They can continue to experiment with Moises Sierra at first base, but that is a pipe dream at best.
So for now, they’ll keep an eye on Dan Johnson and try to determine if he’s a legitimate piece of the team in 2014 or if his performance is just a spring mirage.