ST. PETERSBURG — As a coach, manager and coordinator over 16 years in pro ball, Michael Johns has worked with players at every level of the minor leagues.
He is understandably quite thrilled to now be doing so in the majors, announced Wednesday as the Rays’ new first base coach, with additional responsibilities of outfield play and baserunning.
“I think at first I was a little bit overwhelmed,” Johns said. “Over the last few days, it’s really kind of sunk in that this is real.
“This has been a long journey. It’s been 16 years of the minor leagues, including seven years of extended spring training, three years in (rookie-level) Princeton (West Viriginia). I hit every level.
“So I did it like the players, but they did it a lot faster than me. I’m excited, obviously. For my wife and I, it’s been a really cool journey, it’s been a long journey, and I think it makes it even more special, what we’ve been through.”
Johns, 48, joined the Rays in December 2007 from the high school coaching ranks, spending two years as a coach and eight managing through four levels, then five as a field coordinator, working with players throughout the system.
With then-Triple-A manager Brady Williams was promoted to the big-league staff for last season, Johns was asked to think about replacing him. Johns realized he missed being in the dugout, the daily routines and challenges of being with a team, and the competition of winning games. He talked to a number of Rays officials, including manager Kevin Cash, and was convinced to pursue the job, which he got, and led the Bulls to the playoffs.
“They all, to a man, said this is the best thing for you,” Johns said. “If you want to go to the big leagues, get back in the dugout and manage Triple A, it’ll be the closest thing to the major leagues. And they were all right.”
Cash said Johns’ vast experience at different levels and in different jobs was a big part of the appeal of hiring him from a group of internal and external candidates. “He has had many roles within our organization, and I look forward to him bringing his experience to the major-league club,” Cash said in a statement.
Johns replaces Chris Prieto, who had the job for two seasons and was let got last month with a year remaining on his contract.
• Catcher Alex Jackson was re-signed to a minor-league deal, giving the Rays an internal option to pair with Rene Pinto. Jackson, 27, was acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline, but played only 14 games at Triple-A Durham before sustaining a non-baseball injury to his right shoulder.
He was the No. 6 overall pick in 2014 by Seattle and has played 66 games in the majors over four seasons with the Braves, Marlins and Brewers. If he is not added to the 40-man roster by Tuesday’s 6 p.m. deadline, Jackson could be taken in the Rule 5 draft.
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• The Rays are finalists for five Silver Slugger awards, which will be announced Thursday (6 p.m., MLB Network).
Yandy Diaz (an AL-best .330 average, 22 home runs, 78 RBIs, .932 OPS) is in the top four at first base. Randy Arozarena (.254, 23, 83, .789) is among seven players for the three outfield spots. And Isaac Paredes (.250, 31, 98, .840) is a top finisher at third base and the utility spot.
The Rays are also among four finalists for a new team award, with the Astros, Mariners and Rangers.
• Seven Rays were nominated for the All-MLB team, to be announced Dec. 16 based on a combination of fan vote (via mlb.com through Nov. 19) and an experts panel: relievers Shawn Armstrong and Pete Fairbanks, starter Zach Eflin, outfielders Josh Lowe and Arozarena, Diaz and Paredes.
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