Being familiar with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for over thirty years, it’s very difficult to remember a time when the team had as much depth as it does now. In the past, it seemed as if the club was abundantly stacked at one or two positions (starting pitching always being the most unmissable), but heading into the 2016 campaign, the Dodgers appear to be well rounded at almost every spot on the field.
Some positions are deeper than others, but one of the deepest spots on the diamond right now could very well be second base.
At the beginning of the winter, after Howie Kendrick elected to test the free agent market, it looked as if incumbent utility man Enrique Hernandez had a legitimate claim to man the keystone. However, concerned with Hernandez’s past success against right-handed pitching, the club re-signed Chase Utley, which created a presumable working platoon at second. At that point, it appeared the Dodgers were set at second base, with the future looking even brighter as Jose Peraza continued to climb the prospect rankings.
Then came the three-team deal with the Reds and White Sox in December which netted the Dodgers second baseman Micah Johnson, outfielder Trayce Thompson and pitcher Frankie Montas. Third baseman Todd Frazier landed in Chicago, while the Dodgers sent Peraza, outfielder Scott Schebler and infielder Brandon Dixon to Cincinnati. All three prospects the Dodgers scored were very much considered to be MLB-ready.
All at once, the Dodgers became even deeper in terms of reserve players and minor league depth.
Subsequently, when the bottom fell out of the second base free agent market, the Dodgers were able to bring back Kendrick on a very economical two-year deal. There was talk about both Kendrick and Utley possibly getting time at third base, but the consensus around camp right now is that they’ll share time at second, while Hernandez likely slips back into his super-utility role.
So where does that leave Micah Johnson?
When healthy, the presences of Kendrick and Utley keep him in Oklahoma City, but at the first sign of injury, Johnson will be among the first players to get the call to help man second base. Outside of providing secondary depth, the Dodgers’ immediate interest in Johnson could be for his speed on the basepaths, and for his usefulness in late game situations as a pinch runner once rosters expand, or maybe even in the playoffs.
Johnson’s best assets by far are his overall speed and his quick first step. His run tool is rated a 75 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Johnson was successful on 28 steals in 35 attempts at Triple-A in 2015, and stole as many as 84 bases in 2013 between Single-A Kannapolis and Double-A Birmingham. In 143 career games at the Triple-A level, he swiped 40 bases in 53 attempts (75.5 percent).
In terms of offense, Johnson has always found success at Triple-A, but hasn’t found much consistency in his limited time in the majors. He hit .315/.375/.466 in 78 games in Triple-A Charlotte last year, then hit .230/.306/.270 in his first 36 games in the bigs.
In the majors and minors combined in 2015, Johnson hit .300/.366/.455 against right-handed pitching and .287/.347/.346 against lefties.
The biggest knock on Johnson so far during his young career has been his defense, but according to his own accounts, what was once considered a small throwing hitch by scouts snowballed into a stereotype that he is error-prone with his glove.
“I know there were some things [the White Sox] wanted me to clean up, like turning a double play, but that was all because I had a hitch in my throw. That had nothing to do with my footwork, my hands. Routine plays have never been an issue. I field those fine. I get the outs,” Johnson said.
“I think some people get that confused, like, ‘Defensively, he makes errors’ or something like that. That’s not the case at all. I just had a little hitch in my throw and some double plays didn’t get completed. This offseason, I cleaned that hitch up. I had a couple months to just work on my throwing, short compact throws, using my torque and my body.”
Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts has a keen interest in Johnson, and thinks his best chance to stick might be as a second base/outfield utility role player.
“Micah is a dynamic player, he’s an interesting player,” Roberts said. “He is continuing to work on the defense and he’s taking balls in center field. He can run. He has that dynamic speed that we really don’t have, so a lot of times young players start to get ahead of themselves. We’ve talked about how it’s just a matter of him performing.”
When asked about what qualities he brings to a team that’s already two to three players deep at most positions, Johnson was quick to point out his aggressiveness with his bat and on the bases.
“I play the game the right way. I play hard, play to win. The numbers take care of themselves. If a runner’s on second base, nobody out and I bunt — can I get a hit out of it? Runner on third with less than two outs, my job is to bring him in somehow, some way. Even first and third with less than two outs, if I put the ball in play, it’s going to be hard for them to get a double play. When I put the ball in play, I know my game and I focus on winning the game and the numbers take care of themselves.”
Johnson realizes that both Kendrick and Utley have him blocked for the early part of the season, but he’s staying focused on winning and remains confident about his chances on contributing to the big league squad in some capacity.
“Everybody [in big league camp] has the sense that everybody’s going to contribute at some point toward the ultimate goal to win the World Series,” Johnson said. “If we win the World Series and you helped the team win three or four games, then you helped them win. There’s not much disunity between what level you’re supposed to be at and who you are. No one cares about that. … There’s not very much I want to accomplish except winning: ‘What did I do to help us win?'”