The Cleveland Indians are in the process of making decisions about their final 25-man roster a week before their season opener in Oakland against the Oakland Athletics. The team Saturday released Jeff Francoeur, a player who hit .286 in the spring, but was squeezed out due to another decision that could pay off in the long run.
That decision was keeping utility man Elliot Johnson, a 30-year-old who has bounced around in his career from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Kansas City Royals to the Atlanta Braves. Johnson’s value comes from the fact that he’s good enough to play just about anywhere on the field, from second base to third to shortstop to the outfield.
He’s hit the cover off the ball this spring, putting up a .350 average with two homers, eight RBIs and even a stolen base. Johnson is hard not to like, and manager Terry Francona has shown in his second spring as manager of the Indians that he loves players who can handle themselves at more than one position on the field.
After a 2013 season in which he hit just a combined .209 between the Royals and Braves, Johnson has played this spring with a new energy as he’s done whatever he can to earn his way to a roster spot for the Tribe.
It’s no secret that Johnson has never had a big stick at the plate, hitting just .218 average in 730 career at-bats. His glove is the main reason why he’s been able to stick around in the majors, and while his glove has been good this spring, he finally seems confident at the plate.
If Johnson can come up with a decent average, he’ll more than fit in with the ‘Goon Squad,’ the name for the the team’s bench corps that played so well last season that most bench players like Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles found themselves as key reasons for the club’s Wild Card push.
Johnson has passed the first hurdle in making the team’s 25-man roster. Now he’ll have a shot at playing time for Francona and the team as they get final some prep in place to start what they hope will be a successful season in Oakland.