Make us your home page
Instagram

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

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Rays' Elliot Johnson trying to create new image with versatility

PORT CHARLOTTE

Rays infielder Elliot Johnson said it'll happen fairly often. He'll introduce himself to somebody around town and be surprised by the response. "They'll say, 'Oh, you're the guy that hit that catcher,' " Johnson said. "They don't know me as Elliot Johnson. I'm still not Elliot Johnson yet. I'm that guy." That guy may have made New York tabloid headlines last spring with a home-plate collision with Yankees catching prospect Francisco Cervelli, a hard baseball play that eventually led to a brawl and served as a key moment in the Rays coming together.

But Johnson, 25, also won a spot on the opening day roster last season with one of the best springs in club history, replacing Ben Zobrist (broken left thumb). And as Johnson wants to make a different name for himself on the field, he's willing to play different positions and be groomed as another Rays utilityman.

Manager Joe Maddon said that with several young starters set at their positions, he'd like to nurture that kind of versatile player instead of pigeonholing a prospect into one spot. Willy Aybar turned a bench role into a two-year contract. Zobrist made a huge impact last season being a jack-of-all-trades.

And Maddon feels Johnson fits the bill perfectly, one capable of stepping in for Zobrist if need be.

"He's a live-body guy, he's got a great arm," Maddon said. "You see him in the outfield, how easily he gets after the ball, as well as he's a switch-hitter. He's a very interesting utility guy to me. I feel good with him at first, second, he can play short, third and all three (outfield spots). Easily. And I would have no qualm putting him at any position, athletically speaking."

Johnson has played all over the field this spring and has handled the transition well, though he admits third base has been the toughest to adjust to. The switch-hitter has also performed well at the plate (.316 average, two homers, five RBIs). But he also has eight strikeouts, with Maddon saying his contact rate is "probably the reason why he's not the regular position player you're looking for yet."

"But athletically speaking, I'm seeing better base­running, I'm seeing more comfort, more of a sense of belonging," Maddon said. "He feels like he should be here now, and that's all good."

Johnson, whose primary position is second base, said he welcomes the chance to play several spots. The Safford, Ariz., native started five games for the Rays last season (two at short, one at second, one in centerfield, one in rightfield). But after hitting .158 (3-for-19) Johnson was optioned back to Durham, where he spent his second season with the Bulls.

"If I had played better, I would have been back up, that's the bottom line," Johnson said. "Aki (Iwamura) never got hurt, so they never needed me to come."

But with Johnson increasing his versatility, the need for a player like him could occur more often, with the Rays and around the league.

"When you have a 12-man pitching staff on a 25-man roster, I love the idea that one guy among your players can do a lot of different things," Maddon said. "And I think that's going to become a more pertinent part of major-league baseball."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Elliot Johnson trying to create new image with versatility 03/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 9, 2009 7:58am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays late-night bullpen shuffle: Alvarado, Pruitt down; Kolarek up

    Blogs

    The Rays shuffled their bullpen again after Tuesday's game, sending down struggling LHP Jose Alvarado along with RHP Austin Pruitt to Triple-A Durham, and turning next to LHP Adam Kolarek, who will make his major-league debut at age 28,

  2. Rays journal: Alex Cobb brilliant, Alex Colome worrying in 10-inning victory (w/video)

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — RHP Alex Cobb couldn't have been much better for the Rays on Tuesday, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning while working eight solid. And Alex Colome couldn't have been much worse, blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead.

    Rays starter Alex Cobb carries a no-hitter into the seventh and pitches eight shutout innings in his best outing of the season.
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Pirates game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb continues to look better and better, which could make the decision whether to trade him tougher. Cobb had a no-hitter through six and threw his biggest pitch with a 1-0 lead in the seventh, getting Josh Bell to roll into a double play.

  4. For good of the Rays, Tim Beckham should embrace move to second

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — The acquisition of slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria said a lot of things, most notably that the Rays are serious about making in-season moves to bolster their chances to make the playoffs, with a reliever, or two, next on the shopping list.

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 27:  Tim Beckham #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after scoring during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 27, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) 700011399
  5. Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, Pittsburgh

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Pirates

    7:05, PNC Park, Pittsburgh

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

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Blake Snell #4 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)