My unhealthy obsession with Reed Johnson started during my freshman year of college when I went up to Toronto for series between the Jays and Red Sox. It was a nice August day and the roof was open at the Rogers Centre. Josh Beckett was on the mound that day and was handling a struggling Jays lineup with ease. I can’t remember for sure if Mr. Johnson had a hit that day, but I do remember being absolutely astounded by a diving catch he made on a blooper to short center. It wasn’t more than an inning later that Reed vaulted himself up the wall underneath the hotel balconies to rob JD Drew of a double.
On March 25, 2008 my good buddy Dave knocks on my dorm room door with a grin on his face and a little bit out of breath, which I later decided was due to excitement. He asks me if I have been on to MLBTradeRumors.com, in which I subsequently tell him no. As if he can’t wait any longer he spits out some combination of “Reed Johnson! Cubs! Signed!” The next few minutes are a bit of a blur, but I can confirm that there may have been jumping on my bed and a hoot or two. Dave and I always shared the mutual love for under appreciated and somewhat skillfully-limited baseball players, a category which I place Reed Johnson in.
Johnson quickly became a fan favorite at Wrigley (at least so I hear since I’m not a season ticket holder nor do I live remotely close to Chicago) because of his hustle on the field and candor off of it. According to Johnson it was that very reason that he came back to Chicago after his one season stint with the Dodgers in 2010. Although I’m not sure that anyone else offered him a contract either. Despite getting only a minor league contract from the Cubbies last off-season, he played well enough in Spring Training (something he often has done throughout his career) and predictably won a bench job out of camp.
Reed played well in spot starts last season getting 266 plate appearances while showing up in 111 final box scores. He rewarded the team at the plate with a .309/.348 mark, but did struggle at the one facet of his game that’s made him a valuable major league asset: his fielding. His fielding percentage was the worst of his career at .976, which some attributed to shifting around to all the spots in the outfield. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, because Johnson has split time at the three outfield spots for a majority of his nine season career. The three errors in 86 fielding appearances were the most he’s had since his four error rookie campaign in which he started 94 games. The fielding decline isn’t anything to get alarmed about just yet, although it is a bit troubling coming off his 1.000% fielding percentage season with LA. Johnson, who just turned 35 in December, will need to show that his fielding is still up to his standards in limited duties this season, especially if he wants a major league contract after this upcoming season.
Reed is far from the player that started 143 games for that ’06 Blue Jays team that won 87 games, but he can still be an effective player in The Show. The beginning of the Cubs season will most likely determine the amount of opportunities that Johnson will get in 2012. An older outfield of Soriano, Byrd and DeJesus should provide plenty of playing time whether it be because of injury or fatigue. However if the Cubs really struggle out the gate, Theo will hear plenty of cries to start bringing up the kids as early as May. Such circumstances could both hinder his playing time and ultimately cost him a roster spot in the long run.
some most of you are probably wondering why on Earth I would decide to talk about a player that really has no future with the organization. Yes I have a man crush, but that’s not the only reason. It is because I believe that Johnson can be a factor for the Cubs successes in a season that has no real expectations from both fans and management.
He’s not going to put up great numbers at the plate or get to every ball in the outfield with an aging body, but what he can provide is leadership in the clubhouse for a fairly young team. Along with Byrd, Johnson will be a mentor (hopefully) to a team that will likely see a variety of call-ups before the season closes.
I know, I know. Leadership doesn’t always mean a whole lot in baseball as it does in other sports, but we’ve all seen the aftermath of the 2011 Red Sox mess. Sometimes the best guys in the clubhouse are the guys that can will their teammates to wins during a slump or tough stretch of games. For me, anything that Johnson can do on the field spectacularly is gravy if he can prove to be exactly what I described for this team. Sometimes it’s okay to say screw the metrics or stats and just go based off of your gut, which is exactly what I’m doing. I’m not saying that Johnson is going to greatly improve a team that will likely finish second or third in the NL Central and miss the playoffs. What I am saying is that he’s an important cog in the culture change wheel on the North Side. Unfortunately for Johnson, he’ll unlikely see the end result of a Cubs World Series run.
Randomly Inaccurate and Unscientific projections:
.280 avg/ .330 OBP/ .992 Fielding percentage
And what could be better than some Reed Johnson Trivia to boot?
- Where did he play college ball?
- What was his first number for the Cubs in 2008?
- What year was he drafted and by which team? Bonus: For naming the round.
- What year did he make his pro debut? (To prove you actually read)
- How many Reed Johnson jersey t-shirts has Josh owned?