Inside Pitch: Dan Johnson, Odd Man Out?

Barring a trade in the next month, the A's will once again arrive in spring training with a glut of left-handed-hitting first basemen and designated hitters.<br><br> And the odd man out is again likely to be the reigning Most Valuable Player of the Pacific Coast League.<br><br> A year ago, that was Graham Koonce.<br><br> This year, that could be Dan Johnson.

If either hit right-handed, they would provide a nice complement to first baseman Scott Hatteberg and designated hitter Erubiel Durazo on days the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher.

The A's signed Eric Karros to fill that role last year, but his opportunities were slim and his production was slimmer.

Koonce was forced to return to Class AAA Sacramento, where he shared the 1B/DH duties with Johnson, and didn't put up the same numbers. Teammates felt for him and thought he might be headed to Japan this year, but instead he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a six-year minor league free agent.

While Koonce's stock dropped, Johnson continued to shine.

On the heels of hitting .290 with 27 home runs, 114 RBIs and an 869 OPS at Double-A Midland in 2003, Johnson hit .299 with 29 home runs, 111 RBIs and a 937 OPS at Sacramento in 2004.

Those numbers usually ensure a job in the majors, especially on a cash-strapped team like the A's, who need to introduce cheap young players into the mix every year. But not this time.

Hatteberg and Durazo are both big favorites of the front office. Hatteberg is the final year of a two-year contract and coming off a career-best season. Durazo is under the A's control and will go to salary arbitration if the A's can't settle on a contract with his agent. There was some speculation that Johnson could be moved to the outfield. He played a few games in left field last season and again in a Mexican Winter League, but that wasn't because the A's were looking to change his position.

"It's probably not bad for him," general manager Billy Beane said. "It's not something we requested as an organization. (If) they are doing it, they must need him to play out there. It doesn't hurt. But I don't think it's realistic to consider Dan an outfielder at this point in his career or any point of his career. He's a first baseman or a DH."

Besides, the A's are already overloaded with outfielders. Eric Byrnes, Mark Kotsay and Nick Swisher figure to start. Charles Thomas, part of the Hudson trade, will be given every chance to start, and Bobby Kielty remains in the mix.

Therefore, Johnson must be patient. If somebody gets hurt, his presence provides excellent depth. If not, he could spend another year at Sacramento and hope to learn from what he saw Koonce go through last year.


--DH Erubiel Durazo doesn't need to play winter ball anymore to impress major league teams, but he continues to play for his hometown Hermosillo Orange Growers for about a week. This year, Durazo was just 3-for-19 in six games with a double his only extra-base hit.

--INF Marco Scutaro, who got the majority of the time at second base last season with Mark Ellis out for the year, will be in a fight for a job with the acquisition of Keith Ginter and Ellis returning. Scutaro is hitting .313 for Caracas in the Venezuelan League.

--OF Eric Byrnes, one of the most popular Americans to ever play in the Dominican Winter League, is playing again this year for the playoffs. Byrnes' all-out hustle won him many fans, as it does everywhere.

--RHP Juan Cruz, a reliever acquired in the Tim Hudson trade, is another player who doesn't need to impress in the winter leagues, but he does it out of honor for his country, the Dominican Republic. Cruz picked up a victory for Licey in the round-robin playoff game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 19 -- INF Keith Ginter's home run total in just 386 at-bats for Milwaukee last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have more experience at second. I played third base quite a bit and felt comfortable. When you're bouncing from position to position, it's tough to get comfortable at one. I played a little outfield. I could probably play both corner outfield positions. I'm not going to say I'm going to make diving catches. But I'll make the routine play and won't hurt you too much." -- Keith Ginter, analyzing his defensive abilities at different positions.

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