On the Bubble: Dan Johnson, 1B/DH

<i>This is the sixth in our series of articles examining the chances of A's prospects to make the Oakland 25-man roster out of spring training.</i><br><br> First baseman Dan Johnson was the PCL regular and post-season MVP in 2004. However, Oakland has veterans in place at both the first base and designated hitter spots. So what are Johnson's chances to make the 25-man roster in 2005? Adam Miller takes a look.

Dan Johnson, L/R, 6'2", 220.

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

XBH

ISOP

BB/K

2000

NEB

NCAA

21

.368

.482

.849

152

56

8

1

21

38

31

30

.481

1.23

2001

NEB

NCAA

22

.361

.507

.752

230

83

13

1

25

63

49

39

.391

1.29

2001

VAN

NW A

22

.283

.354

.494

247

70

15

2

11

27

63

28

.211

0.43

2002

MOD

CAL A

23

.293

.371

.500

426

125

25

1

21

57

87

47

.207

0.66

2003

MID

TEX AA

24

.290

.365

.504

538

156

26

4

27

68

82

57

.214

0.83

2003

SAC

PCL AAA

24

.250

.250

.500

4

1

1

0

0

0

0

1

.250

-

2004

SAC

PCL AAA

25

.299

.403

.534

536

160

29

5

29

89

93

63

.239

0.96



What does Dan Johnson have to do to get a shot? We looked ahead at the A's first base/DH situation in 2005 in a series of articles here, here, and here, and stated, "After a full season of excelling at every level in the A's minor league system, Johnson appears ready for a shot in the majors. He hits for average, power, and has solid (and improving) plate discipline. He should get the call in September to see what he can do against some major league caliber pitching." Johnson did get a call-up in September, but a bout of vertigo combined with the Oakland's down-to-the-wire division race with Texas and Anaheim effectively eliminated any possible September playing time.

But that didn't stop Dan from being named the regular and post-season PCL MVP in 2004, with an outstanding season across the board. Johnson hit career highs in nearly every offensive category, all while playing at the AAA level. He set new professional marks for batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, extra-base hits, isolated power, and walk/strikeout ratio. This is nothing new for Dan – his numbers have improved in each professional season, while moving to a higher level of competition each time.

Dan's main competition for the major league roster entering 2004 consisted of Graham Koonce, Scott Hatteberg, and Erubiel Durazo. Koonce was not re-signed as a six-year minor league free agent – he signed with the Pirates, where he hopes to finally get a chance to make the major league roster – but Johnson is still log-jammed by Hatteberg and Durazo. While Hatteberg is signed through 2005, with a club option for 2006, there was some speculation that Oakland might not be able to afford Durazo after his spectacular 2004 season. However, Durazo was re-signed in mid-January to a one-year deal worth $4.7 million.

Although Durazo is a monster offensively – .321/.396/.523 – his defensive limitations relegate him to a DH-only role on the 25-man roster. What that means is that Hatteberg is the only true first-baseman on the roster capable of playing in the field. In 2004, the A's signed the right-handed Eric Karros with the intent that he would spell Hatteberg in the field as well as Durazo in the DH role. The Karros experiment didn't work out as planned, with Karros hitting .194/.243/.311 before being released mid-season.

Unfortunately for Johnson, it's doubtful the A's will again carry three first basemen/designated hitters on the roster, especially with Hatteberg, Durazo, and Johnson all being left-handed. This year, it's expected that Nick Swisher will occasionally spell Hatteberg at first base, with a sprinkling of Durazo field sightings.

It's just a crowded roster all around. Twenty-two players are virtually guaranteed roster spots on Opening Day, barring a trade: Jason Kendall, Adam Melhuse, Scott Hatteberg, Erubiel Durazo, Bobby Crosby, Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis, Keith Ginter, Eric Byrnes, Bobby Kielty, Mark Kotsay, Nick Swisher, Charles Thomas, Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Chad Bradford, Kiko Calero, Juan Cruz, Octavio Dotel, Justin Duchsherer and Ricardo Rincon. That leaves only three spots to fill out the roster, and only one possible spot for a position player, as the A's are likely to carry at least 11 pitchers, and possibly 12. Also note that I've only included three starters in that group, so obviously, at least two out of a Joe Blanton, Seth Etherton, Dan Meyer, and Keiichi Yabu group will be breaking camp with the A's. That realistically leaves one spot for Etherton, Meyer (I'm just guessing here about the final two rotation spots), Marco Scutaro, Matt Watson, Dan Johnson, Jairo Garcia, Chris Mabeus, Tyler Johnson, and Huston Street. It's arguable that every player I've listed, based on performance, should be on the major league roster this year, but there's not room for everyone.

With Hatteberg turning 35 this season, and Durazo pricing himself out of the A's budget, it's likely that Johnson will have a legitimate shot to make the Oakland roster and get regular playing time in 2006. Unfortunately for Dan, he appears to be ready to contribute to the team in 2005; he's certainly proven that he's ready to take another step up in competition. But it's better to have him playing every day in Sacramento than sitting in the dugout in Oakland, and it's hard to project any regular playing time for him this year at the major league level.

Adam Miller is a Senior Writer for OaklandClubhouse.com. He can be reached at adamgmiller@gmail.com.

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