A look at one of the games top second base prospects
When the Dodgers heard that Reds and White Sox were moving towards a deal for All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier, Andrew Friedman and co made sure they got their hand in the pot as well. In return for fringe prospects Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza and Brandon Dixon, the Dodgers got flame thrower Frankie Montas, CF Trayce Thompson and today’s subject, Micah Johnson.
Johnson, most notable for his 75 grade speed, is often credited with a good feel for hitting. He’s been able to hit for average over the course of his minor league career slashing .301/.368/.431 in his 4 minor league seasons. In 2013 Johnson broke Billy Hamilton‘s single season stolen base record with 84. While there’s plenty to like on offense, Johnson has little power and is often criticized for his defense at second.
After a solid 2014 in which Johnson posted a .294/.351/.403 with 22 stolen bases, the former 9th round pick started 2015 in the big leagues with the White Sox. It wasn’t quite the debut he was hoping for as he managed to hit just .230 with 3 stolen bases and was demoted to AAA in mid-May. In his brief big league stint, Johnson was plagued with strikeout issues, striking out in 26.3% of plate appearances. His defense was also sub-par as in just 280 innings, Johnson posted a -7 DRS.
However upon returning to the minors, Johnson flourished hitting .315 in 78 games. He also saw some time in CF where some scouts believe his future may lie due to his double plus speed.
2016 Role and Steamer Projections
As it stands, Johnson finds himself buried way down the Dodgers infield depth chart. Howie Kendrick just signed a 2 year deal and will likely be the primary second baseman for the duration while Enrique Hernandez, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Chase Utley have their own roles in the infield for the near future. However, the Dodgers sorely need someone who can set the table at the top of the lineup and Johnson’s combination of speed and ability to get on base fits that role perfectly. If Johnson continues to hit in AAA then the Dodgers may be forced to find him regular playing time on the big league club.
Due to the Dodgers deep infield depth chart, Steamer projects Johnson to appear in just 2 games for the Dodgers this year. For that reason I’m going to have to turn to ZIPS here so just keep that in mind if you want to compare Johnson to some other players we have previewed.
For 2016, ZIPS projects Johnson to appear in 116 games (won’t happen) with a slash line of .248/.292/.368. Zips also projects 25 stolen bases and 0 home runs, resulting in 0.5 WAR for the speedy left-hander. In my opinion, ZIPS is a little low on Johnson in home runs and OBP. Johnson produced 8 long balls in AAA last year so there is definitely some power there, while ZIPS is projecting a walk rate of just 5.9% in 2016, however he has routinely walked around 10% of the time in the minors and 7.9% in the majors last year. That should push Johnson’s OBP up into the low 300’s.
What Could Go Wrong?
At 25 and having already struggled at the major league level, there is a real threat that Johnson turns into the dreaded AAAA player. That is only compounded by the fact that he is currently a long way back on the depth chart at 2b with no clear path to playing time until his age 27 season. His defense may also push him out of the infield which would put even greater pressure on his bat developing into a viable tool. If he can’t get his strike out rate under control at the major league level then, Johnson may never make a true impact at the Major League level.
Having said that, Johnson’s floor is relatively high as he is likely a viable bench player as it stands.
What Could Go Right?
One thing is for sure – the speed plays. If Johnson can put the ball in play consistently and draw his share of walks along the way then he should be an above average regular at least (depending on his glove). He’s never going to hit for a lot of power and he probably shouldn’t even try to but there is likely 5-10 HR’s per season in his bat and if he can get on base at a respectable rate then he should be able to steal 30+ bases as well.
If Johnson, the #5 second base prospect in the game, can work out these few issues then he could be the top of the order speed threat the Dodgers lineup currently lacks