Opportunity Arises For Daniel Johnson
In a trade that was basically a salary dump, with veteran catcher Yan Gomes going from Cleveland to Washington, the Indians feel they have added some much-needed outfield depth to the organization.
The key addition for the Indians in the three-player return for Gomes was 23-year-old outfielder Daniel Johnson. A fifth-round pick out of New Mexico State in the 2016, Johnson was the Nationals’ minor league player of the year in 2017.
During his player of the year campaign, Johnson slashed .298/.356/.505 with 22 home runs, 72 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 497 combined at-bats between low Class A Hagerstown and high Class A Potomac.
In 2018, Johnson missed roughly six weeks due to a broken hamate bone. In 356 at bats at Double-A Harrisburg, his numbers regressed to .267/.321/.410, and he hit just six home runs with 31 RBIs but still managed 21 stolen bases.
Johnson will likely start the 2019 season at Triple-A Columbus, but Indians officials feel he will eventually become a candidate for a spot on the major league roster.
"Daniel is an athletic outfielder, with a very good combination of power and speed,” said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti.
Johnson, who has a plus arm, can play all three outfield positions, but he has spent most of his time in center field and right field.
As the calendar turned to 2019, outfield was a major concern for the Indians. As the new year began, following the loss of Michael Brantley to free agency, the outfielders on Cleveland’s 40-man roster were Greg Allen, Jake Bauers, Jordan Luplow, Leonys Martin, Oscar Mercado, Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer. Of those seven players, only one, Martin, has spent a full season as an outfielder at the major league level.
The Indians are expected to add an outfielder or two prior to opening day. But with a strong showing in 2019, Johnson could play his way into the major league picture at some point in the upcoming season, or in 2020 at the latest.
"We look at him as someone who can help us and contribute at the major league level over the next few years,” Antonetti said.
The left-handed hitting Johnson has dramatic splits versus left and righthanded pitchers, which is a definite cause for concern moving forward. In 2018, Johnson hit .303 versus righthanders but just .163 off of lefties. That was nearly in line with his .314 batting average against righties and .250 mark against lefthanders in 2017.
But with Cleveland’s current inventory of outfielders filled with inexperience and question marks, the opportunity is there for Johnson.