Player Profile: Dan Johnson, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays
The attention of the baseball world this morning is focused on an unlikely hero: Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Dan Johnson, whose home run Wednesday night pushed the Rays into the 2011 American League playoffs as the wild card.
Who is this guy? What kind of prospect was he? Let's take a look.
Dan Johnson was a successful slugger at the University of Nebraska, hitting .368/.482/.849 with 21 homers in 55 games for the Cornhuskers in 2000, then .361/.507/.752 with 25 homers in 2001. Although his left-handed power bat was attractive, his other physical tools were mediocre, he looked too fat, and scouts felt his swing was too long to guarantee success in pro ball. Still, his college performance was good enough that Oakland drafted him in the seventh round in 2001. He hit .283/.354/.494 with 11 homers in his 69-game pro debut for Vancouver in the Northwest League.
Promoted to High-A Modesto for 2002, he continued mashing with a .293/.371/.500 mark and 21 homers in 126 games. Scouts noticed that he was in better physical condition compared to college and had improved defensively, although there still some doubts about holes in his swing. This flaw wasn't evident in 2003: he hit .295/.365/.514 with 23 homers for Double-A Midland.
He continued crushing minor league pitching with a .299/.403/.534 mark and 29 homers (plus 89 walks) in 536 at-bats for Triple-A Sacramento in 2004, although some people still felt this was a Pacific Coast League illusion. He received semi-regular playing time for Oakland in 2005 and performed well, hitting .275/.355/.451 with 15 homers in 375 at-bats.
Johnson slumped to .243/.323/.381 in 2006, then .236/.349/.418 in 2007, although he did hit 18 homers and draw 72 walks for the Athletics. He spent 2008 with Triple-A Durham in the Rays system and was excellent (.307/.424/.556), but with no major league opportunity presenting itself, he moved on to Japan in '09. He hit 24 homers for Yokohama, but a low .215 batting average didn't look good in Japan and sent him back to the US for '10.
Johnson hit .303/.430/.624 in Triple-A last year, but just .198/.343/.414 in 111 major league at-bats. He spent most of 2011 back in Triple-A, hitting .273/.382/.459 but just .115 in 78 major league at-bats.
Overall, Johnson has spent parts of six years in the major leagues, hitting .235/.334/.405 overall, with 53 homers, 196 walks, and 226 strikeouts in 1520 plate appearances. His OPS is a bit below average at 98 (100 is average). His career WAR is a tick above average at 1.9, but most of that value was generated in his 2005 and 2007 seasons.
In Triple-A, he is a career .301/.413/.543 hitter.
Like many minor league sluggers, Johnson has enough offensive value to be useful in the right circumstance for the right team. Even when he hit .198 for the Rays in 2010, his walks and isolated power still gave him an above-average OPS at +111. Overall, Johnson is the epitome of a "Quadruple-A slugger," a guy who mashes pitching in the upper minors, but just isn't quite good enough to earn a regular job as a first baseman or DH in the majors, and spends his career crushing Triple-A pitching and battling for at-bats as a reserve in the Show.
Unlike many such players, however, Johnson's heroics on the last day of the 2011 season have earned him a place in baseball history that will never be taken away.