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2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Kelly Johnson

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Free agent second baseman Kelly Johnson has come to terms with the Tampa Bay Rays Monday afternoon on a one-year deal.

There have been mixed feelings from within the Rays organization so far today as to what primary position Johnson will play, from second base to third base to left field. Fortunately, he’ll carry a second base tag from the start, and all other position eligibility will prove to be gravy. Second base looks to be one of, if not the, thinnest positions in fantasy baseball this season. Will Kelly be relevant in Tampa Bay? More importantly, will Kelly be relevant to your fantasy team?

Johnson provides what I’ll call cheap pop from the second base position. If you miss out on stars Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips and the other well known, and usually over-drafted second basemen, Johnson will be there waiting for you with open arms.

After those aforementioned second basemen are off the board, fantasy owners will begin reaching for the likes of Chase Utley, Michael Young, Rickey Weeks and Neil Walker. These guys will not prove to be worth taking in rounds eight-13, while you can grab players at other positions to help your team and still grab Johnson later on.

At first glance, Johnson’s 2012 numbers seem discouraging:

.225/.313/.365 16 HRs, 55 RBI, 61 Runs, 14 SBs and 62 BBs

However, if you look at Johnson’s first and second half splits, you seem to be looking at two different guys. Johnson played well above his 17th round average draft position from 2012 fantasy drafts in the first half of the season, but he completely fell off in the second half.

First Half Stats: .246/.333/.387 10 HRs, 37 RBI, 39 Runs, seven SBs and 40 BBs

Second Half Stats: .195/.284/.333 six HRs, 18 RBI, 22 Runs, seven SBs and 22 BBs

As Jose Bautista, and his injured wrist, left the Toronto Blue Jays for the season in mid-July 2012, the Blue Jays offensive production went with him. Kelly Johnson followed, as the team lost their potential MVP candidate and any hopes to be playing ball in October.

In a more consistent environment, where Joe Madden is an unquestioned mastermind, Johnson will have the opportunity for a resurgent season in Tampa Bay. Madden has done it with Casey Kotchman and Jeff Keppinger, so expect him to do the same with Johnson.

In a new city with more of a winning attitude than there ever was in Toronto, until 2013 ironically, I’m predicting a bounce-back season for Johnson where his total 2013 stats will be closer to his 2012 first half than his 2012 second half.

The true value of Johnson will present itself if you miss out early on the elite second basemen, and allow yourself to draft the best available talent instead of drafting a regressing over-hyped player to fill second base hole. You’re likely looking at an average draft position in the late teens or early twenties for Johnson with potential to greatly overproduce his draft position. Johnson will produce better fantasy numbers than his 2013 average draft position would dictate; so hopefully it’s for you!

2013 Fantasy Prediction: .250/.340/.405 21 HRs, 73 RBI, 65 Runs, 12 SBs and 70 BBs

Follow me on Twitter: @Jewish_Jeff