Acquired by the Dodgers in a swap of prospects with the White Sox on Wednesday, Micah Johnson gets the unenviable comparison to Jose Peraza in the deal. While not quite the prospect of his counterpart, Johnson will be counted on to provide competition at second base in spring training, with a shot at potentially becoming an everyday contributor down the road. Questions on his overall power potential and defense might have to be answered before he is seen as something beyond a bench piece and late-game pinch runner. Johnson ranks in the top 20 because he’s close to a finished product and has proven his ability to hit at the highest minor league level.
Though not as fluid and loose as Peraza, Johnson is a fine athlete in his own right, with similar plus speed. Built more like an NFL press cover corner, Johnson has a filled out 6’0 frame and the quick twitchiness to develop an elite first-step quickness on either the basepaths or in the field. His athleticism allows him to flash the spectacular in the field, but his overall defensive ability is hampered by stiff infield actions and hands. Johnson will likely be no better than average at second base and should he spend 2016 in Triple-A, would be best served getting a few innings in center field as a future defensive fall back.
Johnson has plus speed and is capable of getting down the line from the left side in under 3.9 seconds. While he put up more gaudy stolen base numbers in the low minors, Johnson was nonetheless successful on 28 steals in 35 attempts at the Triple-A level in 2015, and speed will likely be a big factor in his game at the next level. Initially, Johnson might provide the most value to the 2016 team as a speedy bench option/pinch runner down the stretch.
Johnson’s offense from 2015 is a bit perplexing. In watching video from the past two seasons, I’ve noticed a couple different stances and approaches, but the general idea is the same. Johnson employs an extremely short stroke with little load or impact from his lower times. Often times, Johnson just throws his hands at the ball, attempting to go the other way with the only power being supplied by his upper body. He has a feel for contact and has hit for average throughout the minor leagues. Johnson put the ball on the ground 57 percent of the time last season in Triple-A, but his speed helped him uphold a high .369 BABIP.
When he’s not throwing the bat at the ball, Johnson’s swing can get overly rotational, leaving him susceptible to pitches away. Johnson struggled mightily in the majors with pitches on the outer half, though he’s shown enough barrel control at the minor league level to eventually make the necessary adjustments.
Despite above average strength for a second baseman, Johnson has shown almost no power until Triple-A this year, but it vanished again at the major league level. If you watch highlights of his Triple-A home runs, he shows a little more load and body torque on his home runs, taking better advantage of his strength. What I can’t figure out is why his approach at the plate varies so much and what the big league coaches expected of him upon being called up. Despite eight home runs and a .151 ISO for Charlotte, Johnson had just four extra-base hits in 100 at-bats for the White Sox.
The question with Johnson is just which stance/swing/approach the Dodgers will get. Do they get the deeper load, more impactful lower half of the 2015 Triple-A Johnson, or the 2014 Triple-A/2015 MLB little load, short and rotational swing Johnson? Johnson will have to find a balance between the contact-heavy approach and the more pull-conscious swing. Johnson still managed to spray the ball this past season and it likely behooves the Dodgers long term to see more of the 2015 Triple-A version of Johnson’s offense.
While there’s still time for Johnson to become a big league regular, his best chance to stick might be as a second base/outfield utility role player. He’s been almost exclusively a second baseman in the minors and could require additional minor league time to get used to the outfield.
Without defensive upside, more pressure is put on Johnson’s bat to make a positive impact on a big league club. At the end of the day, it could very well be the speed and late game/season usefulness of that specific skill that made Johnson attractive to the Dodgers’ front office.