Daniel Johnson’s Tools Shine In Arizona Fall League
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—After a breakout 2017, Daniel Johnson came back down to Earth a bit in 2018, in part due to a broken hamate bone that knocked him out for six weeks.
In case there was any doubt, though, Johnson is showing his big tools remain intact in the Arizona Fall League.
Johnson, the Nationals' No. 7 prospect, showcased his wide array of skills in Salt River’s 4-3 win in 10 innings over Surprise on Monday afternoon.
The 23-year-old outfielder made a pair of highly impressive catches in left field, showing superb closing speed as he raced back to the wall to take away extra-base hits. He went 2-for-3 at the plate, driving the ball with his fourth-inning double and playing small ball with a bunt single in the sixth. And he helped save the game with his reputed plus-plus arm twice in the late innings.
With the score tied 3-3 in the ninth, Charles LeBlanc (Rangers) knocked a triple into the right field corner and attempted to go home when the throw to third got away. But Johnson had astutely raced in to back up third base, and with the ball on the back of the infield dirt, he picked it up and fired a strike home to nail LeBlanc at the plate.
“I never really throw it from the infield, so I was kind of nervous,” said Johnson, a career outfielder. “When I picked it up I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m kind of close.’ I didn’t want to throw it over his head or anything. Luckily it got thrown and I got him out.”
In the 10th inning, Surprise loaded the bases with no outs. Cole Tucker (Pirates) lifted a fly ball at medium depth to left that had a chance to bring the go-ahead run home, but Johnson kept Santiago Espinal (Blue Jays) frozen at third base with a strong throw to the plate in the air, even though it was a little off line.
With Johnson throwing out the potential go-ahead run in the ninth and keeping another potential go-ahead run on third in the 10th, the table was set for a Salt Lake walk-off, which they got in the bottom of the 10th when Monte Harrison (Marlins) beat out an infield single with two outs as Bryson Brigman (Marlins) crossed the plate for the winning run.
The big all-around day was a needed one for Johnson, a fifth-round pick from New Mexico State in 2016. After batting .298 with 22 home runs last year at the Class A levels, he hit just .267 with six home runs in 89 games this year at Double-A while being felled by the broken hamate. He entered Monday batting just .149 (7-for-47) through the first three weeks of the AFL.
But Johnson’s goal in the AFL this year was not to put up big numbers. He already participated in the league last year, and this season’s return was largely about making up the time missed while he was on the disabled list.
In that regard, Johnson is happy with where he’s at.
“I just tried to think positive and work hard and get back to where I was,” Johnson said. “I was looking forward to coming here after the injury. Being here last year I kind of know what to expect.
“I’m feeling good. My hand is feeling good, I’m just trying to be out here playing my game and just keep going.”
Johnson has two weeks left to polish his overall AFL statline, which now sits at .180/.281/.220. He certainly could use the boost going into the offseason, where a shot at Triple-A and possibly the majors awaits in 2019.
With five hits in his last 11 at-bats and the game-changing tools he showed, the talent that made him one of Washington’s best prospects is still prominent for all to see.
Now, it’s just about having more days like Monday.
“Having quality at-bats, playing good defense, it’s really just keep doing the same thing, don’t change anything,” Johnson said. “I definitely like where I’m at, just gotta keep it going.”
NEWS AND NOTES
Salt River righthander Jordan Yamamoto (Marlins) gave up three hits and three runs in a messy first inning but rebounded to allow only one hit over his final four frames. Yamamoto, one of four prospects Miami acquired from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich trade, mixed his 88-90 mph fastball, 80-83 mph changeup and 74-77 mph slider effectively to keep hitters guessing and off balance. He took a no-decision and is 3-0, 2.57 in five AFL starts.
Another Marlins pitching prospect, reliever Kyle Keller, was one of the more impressive arms in the game. The 25-year-old righthander pitched a perfect eighth, pumping 95-96 mph fastballs through the upper part of the zone. He threw 12 of 13 pitches for strikes and struck out a pair.
Fresh off homering off Nate Pearson’s 103 mph fastball in the Fall Stars Game, Mets No. 2 prospect Peter Alonso went yard again in Scottsdale’s 5-4 win over Mesa in the evening. Alonso pulverized a high fastball from Cubs lefthander Justin Steele in the fourth inning, sending it deep out to center field for his fifth home run. Alonso is tied with Braxton Davidson (Braves) for the AFL home run lead.
Scottsdale lefthander Garrett Williams (Giants) continued his impressive AFL with another victory to improve to 3-0, 1.35 in five starts. The 24-year-old lefthander struggled to command his 89-92 mph fastball but was deadly with his 81-83 mph slider, locating it to both sides of the plate for called third strikes and burying it in the dirt for swinging strike threes. Four of his six strikeouts came on sliders, including three swinging by righthanded batters.
Mesa shortstop Nico Hoerner (Cubs) went 2-for-4 to up his average to .358 in the fall league. The Cubs' first-round pick this summer stroked two hard singles, one to right-center and one to the left side, and even his outs were hard, including a drive to right. He has multiple hits in six of his last nine games.