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Johnson Serving Utility Role in Columbus with Eye Toward Bigs

Johnson Serving Utility Role in Columbus with Eye Toward Bigs

| On 16, Jun 2014

Since his call-down in May, Elliot Johnson has continued to bring versatility, consistency and veteran experience to the Clippers lineup in more ways than the average player on the roster.

Johnson was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a free agent in January after spending the first part of the 2013 season with the Kansas City Royals and he was claimed off the waivers by the Atlanta Braves in late August.

He originally started his career in the Tampa Bay Rays farm system in 2002 after signing a free agent deal at the age of 18. Johnson began his professional baseball career at the Rookie level with the Princeton Rays of the Appalachian League. He was called up to the Rays’ Single-A affiliate, the Charleston RiverDogs in 2003, but only played half of the games. Johnson became a starter for Charleston in 2004, where he had a .262 batting average in 126 games.

The following season, Johnson was sent to the Rays’ Single-A Advanced affiliate, the Visalia Oaks of the California League, and Double-A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League. During the 2005 season, Johnson hit a .267 batting average and 131 hits. He would spend one more season (2006) in Double-A with the Biscuits before making it to the Triple-A level.

Johnson was called up to the Durham Bulls at the beginning of the 2007 season and stayed put for four seasons in Triple-A. In his final full season in Durham (2010), Johnson boasted a .319 batting average, 136 hits, 11 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 56 RBIs in 109 games.

The Safford, Ariz., native was called up to the Rays at the start of the 2011 season and appeared in 70 games. The following year, Johnson played in 123 games for the Rays, primarily at shortstop.

In February 2013, Johnson was sent to the Kansas City Royals as the final piece of a trade that occurred in December 2012. He was the “player-to-be-named” in the trade that saw the Rays send pitchers Wade Davis and James Shields to the Royals in exchange for right fielder Wil Myers, pitcher Jake Odorizzi, minor league infielder Patrick Leonard and pitcher Mike Montgomery, who is 8-1 this season with the Durham Bulls.

Johnson played 111 games at the MLB level in 2013 including 73 with Kansas City and 32 with the Atlanta Braves. He finished the 2013 season with a combined batting average of .209 and 53 hits.

This season, Johnson played seven games with the Indians before heading to Columbus to play for the Clippers. He is currently hitting .257 with 29 hits in 31 games with Columbus. He has shown his positional versatility this season with 16 games in the outfield, nine games at DH, three games at second base, two games each at first base and shortstop, and he has even made one appearance on the mound as a pitcher.

“Cleveland gave me the best opportunity for a Major League job,” Johnson said. “The Braves non-tendered me after the playoffs last year. They gave me a great opportunity down the stretch in September and late August, and I got to play every day in the playoffs against the Dodgers. It was a great opportunity to play every single day at that type of level and against those players and at the biggest stage of the game.”

“You get down [to Columbus] and you just want to make the most of your time and hopefully you can find a team that could use your help.”

As a former Major Leaguer, Johnson has found himself as a player who goes out to play the game and not necessarily looking for the fame that comes with being a professional athlete.

“Guys that hit .300 every year and hit home runs leave lasting impressions,” Johnson said. “I’m not really a guy that’s a huge impact type of player. I understand where I’m at. I understand what I can and cannot do. I understand that I bring value to a team based off my defensive versatility, catching the ball and throwing it, that’s really my job, and putting the ball in play is really what I bring to the table.”

“It’s not like they’re going to run me out there every single day. It’s just not going to happen at this stage in my career. I’m a complementary piece and I’m happy to do it.”

Despite finding himself at the Triple-A level this season, Johnson is still looking to the future when he gets another opportunity in MLB.

“The long term goal is to be back in the big leagues sometime in some capacity,” Johnson said. “A short term [goal], you just try to make sure you don’t waste any at-bats, try to make the most of every pitch you get, and try to find a way to impress somebody. If there’s enough injuries, you could find a spot on a team that could use your help.”

After a four-game sweep of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (New York Yankees-AAA), Johnson and the Columbus Clippers continue their eight-game homestand this week when the host the Buffalo Bison (Toronto-AAA) and then go on the road for 10 games against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Philadelphia-AAA), Buffalo and Toledo (Detroit-AAA).

Photo: MiLB.com