Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Elliot Johnson's versatility may produce bench role with Tampa Bay Rays

In spring 2008, Elliot Johnson plows Yanks catcher Francisco Cervelli, the play fueling some hostilities between the teams.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2008)

In spring 2008, Elliot Johnson plows Yanks catcher Francisco Cervelli, the play fueling some hostilities between the teams.

ST. PETERSBURG — For infielder Elliot Johnson, it appears his time has finally arrived.

Johnson, 26, has spent his entire nine-year pro career within the Rays organization, with three hits in 19 big-league at-bats (all in 2008). He has ridden buses during minor-league stints in Princeton, Charleston (S.C.), Visalia (Calif.) and Durham (N.C.), where he has played the past four seasons and built a house for his wife, Nicole, and 13-month-old son, Blake.

But after a breakout season with the Bulls last year, Johnson likely will make the opening-day roster and have a home with the Rays.

After SS Jason Bartlett was traded to the Padres, Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Johnson is expected to get some time at shortstop — with Reid Brignac getting the most— and be a utility man. As a switch-hitter who can play several positions and steal bases, Johnson boasts the type of versatility manager Joe Maddon covets for his bench. After a year in which Johnson was put on waivers and lingered in limbo, he knows nothing is set in stone. But he's pumped for the possibility.

"I'm as excited as you can possibly be," Johnson said. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm a 10."

Rays fans likely remember Johnson for his home-plate collision against the Yankees in a spring training game in 2008 that eventually sparked a brawl and played a role in Tampa Bay coming together during its improbable World Series run.

But having appeared in just seven big-league games, Johnson is eager to play a more tangible role on the field. To get back to the majors, he reinvented himself into a utility man who played four positions (shortstop, second base, leftfield and rightfield).

In 2010, Johnson improved at the plate, hitting .319 with 11 homers. He also had 30 steals, earned Durham MVP honors and was a Triple-A All-Star.

"We call him a 'Mini Zobrist,' " said Triple-A manager Charlie Montoyo, referring to Rays All-Star Ben Zobrist. "He can play everything. The one thing about him is, he's got speed. He's got occasional power. … If you remember, Zobrist, when he was at Durham, he didn't hit for that much power. You could tell he had power but not the way he showed in the big leagues. That could happen to Elliot."

However, what Montoyo believes "turned the page" for Johnson, and enhanced his path to the majors, was his ability to play shortstop. With Brignac up with the Rays last year, Johnson played 64 games at short at Durham. Johnson, who has an outfielder's arm, impressed Montoyo with his range.

"He could play short everyday," Montoyo said. "The best thing I can say about him is that he can be playing rightfield in a one-run game, and I can bring him in the game in the ninth inning to play shortstop for the last three outs."

Johnson knows there's still room to improve — he made 11 errors at short — but he's comfortable and confident there.

"I'm not necessarily the best shortstop in the world; we're not going to say I'm Omar Vizquel," he said. "But I'm really good at ranging left and right, and I love playing up the middle of the field."

And this spring, Johnson will get his shot.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: CF B.J. Upton will host a charity bowling event Jan. 24 at Tampa's Splitsville to benefit the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with David Price, Brignac and brother Justin Upton among the early players committing; sign-up information is available online at … Another spring invitee is likely to be RHP Ricky Orta, a former Mariners prospect who missed the 2010 season recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery. … Hall of Fame voting results will be announced Wednesday.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at

Elliot Johnson's versatility may produce bench role with Tampa Bay Rays 01/01/11 [Last modified: Sunday, January 2, 2011 12:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Cup-winning Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk makes Hockey Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said Dave Andreychuk's name has surfaced often the past eight years with the selection committee.

    30 Oct 2001:  Left wing Dave Andreychuk #25 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates towards the blue line during the NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.  The Maple Leafs defeated the Lightning 3-2.  Mandatory Credit:  Dave Sanford /Allsport
  2. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.
  3. Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, Pittsburgh

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Pirates

    7:05, PNC Park

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Probable pitchers

    Rays: Alex Cobb (6-5, 4.05)

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  4. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108
  5. What they're saying about Dave Andreychuk making Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    "Dave helped me so much when I was just starting my career, a young kid that was looking to find his way as a hockey player, a person and a member of the Tampa Bay community. In addition to watching him compile such awe-inspiring statistics, I remember him as a big brother to me and many others, making sure all the …