30. What should the Braves do with Johnson?

Kelly Johnson was one of the many Atlanta rookies that contributed in 2005. He spent time as the starter in left field, but ended the season as a reserve. What is his future? Should he get another shot at starting or is he a reserve? Bill Shanks talks about Johnson as BravesCenter continues its look at the top 35 questions facing the Braves this winter.

One of the best surprises of the 2005 season was the play of Kelly Johnson, who burst onto the scene in late May and was given the left field job. Johnson had gotten off to a great start in Triple-A Richmond (.310, 8 home runs, and 22 RBI in 155 at bats), and with Raul Mondesi struggling in Atlanta, Johnson got the call to the show.

In his first week, you had to wonder if Johnson was called up prematurely. He went 2-for-34 to start off his career, but Bobby Cox stayed patient with his young player, believing in Johnson's ability. The lefty-hitting Johnson rebounded nicely, with a 22 for 63 stretch that entrenched him as a starter.

Johnson's defense was solid, but his offense stayed inconsistent. By August, Ryan Langerhans was getting more starts in left, and Johnson found himself on the bench with Jeff Francoeur secure in right field.

There is no doubt that Johnson is a solid player. He can show spurts of tremendous power, and when he was hot, he showed he can be a dangerous offensive player. But the inconsistency cost him playing time, leaving him now as the fourth outfielder headed into the 2006 season.

It seems that Langerhans will continue as the starter, unless he proves he can't handle the job. Johnson might then get another chance, but as of now he's a reserve on the Atlanta roster.

Johnson's versatility does provide other options. He came up as a shortstop, and you wonder if the Braves might consider him as a replacement for Rafael Furcal. Johnson also played third in the minors, so he's also insurance for Chipper Jones there.

But there's one other position that is not often mentioned. Last spring, when the Braves were trying to improve Johnson's versatility even more, he played some at second base. Coaches were shocked at how smooth he looked at the position, even though he had never played there before. Perhaps if the Braves keep Furcal and trade Marcus Giles Johnson could be an option at second base.

Johnson's ability to play multiple positions does make him very valuable. He could be the Braves' version of Ryan Freel, the Reds' versatile player. But that versatility also might make him marketable on the trade front. Other teams might want to include Johnson in a deal.

As has been the case with many of the young players, it's all about timing and opportunity. Johnson got that opportunity and held onto the job for a while. But the inconsistency cost him most of a chance to prove he can be an everyday player, while Langerhans got the same shot and showed a bit more consistency.

Johnson has the skills to be an everyday player, so it's very good to have a player like that available. And there's no doubt that Bobby Cox likes him a great deal. If Johnson gets the chance again to show he's a starter, he's going to have to prove he can hold onto the job.

If given everyday at bats, Johnson could possibly put up similar numbers to Langerhans: .280-.300 average, 20-25 home runs, and 70-90 RBI. Plus, like Langerhans, he has the ability to get on base. But he's got to cut down on his strikeouts, as he fanned 75 times in 290 at bats.

Kelly Johnson is a very solid player, and the Braves are very fortunate to have him on the roster. Again, timing is very important in this game, and that could determine whether or not Johnson gets another shot at proving he's more than just a versatile reserve. Until then, he'll be a very valuable member of the Atlanta Braves.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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