Friday, February 12, 2010

On The Fringe: Elliot Johnson

The next post in the series profiling the fringe players on the Rays 40-man roster. The first player I did was Justin Ruggiano, this week I take a short look at Elliot Johnson.

He was never a top prospect, reaching as high 12th ranked by Baseball America for the 2005 season. It was also the season where they ranked him in their tools portion having the best strike-zone discipline in the organization. Although Johnson has since lost his excellent, but brief, walk to strikeout ratio he posted before reaching Double-A.  His big break came in 2008 when Elliot Johnson was on the active roster to start the season as the utility player off the bench. That would be the start of his permanent transition from second baseman to utility player.

Fielding wise, Johnson is probably average at any position playing every one except first base and catcher. Minor League Splits has him mostly in the negatives during the past five seasons. CHONE projects him at about 7 runs below average total if he played 110 games in the Majors. Essentially to the Rays, he is a reserve infielder behind Reid Brignac on the depth chart.

His offense in the minors has been slightly above average over the past couple of seasons after a dismal 2007, according to linear weights. His wOBA for the past three seasons at Durham were .288, .336, and .345. Keep in mind Johnson had only 260 PAs at Durham but flashed his power posting a .450 slugging percentage, just five points below his career best in 2006 at Double-A Montgomery. A switch-hitter, Johnson has struggled hitting lefties the past two seasons although having a better OPS against them since 2005.

I’m surprised he has stayed this long with the Rays, and now without anymore options. He is infield depth and already on the 40-man roster so he’ll stick around a bit longer. Although don’t be surprised if he gets designated for assignment during the season to make room for an acquired player.

Stats from Baseball-Reference, Fan Graphs, and Minor League Splits.


  1. Thanks! Its great to get to know some of the players who aren't top prospects.

    I have something to ask. What do you think of Project Prospect leaving Hellickson off of the Top 50 list because of injury worries? I know you don't care for lists like that, but I would stil like to know.

  2. Doesn't seem right to me. Hellickson has the stuff and a plus change up should be a super plus when ranking prospects. He is certainly among the top five pitchers in AAA this season and a possibly major leaguer sometime this season. I don't think Hellickson is prone to a major injury, but every pitcher has some risk regardless of anything else.

    I don't know.

  3. It's not that I don't like these lists, they're fun, but I understand that there is no way to accurately rank the prospects on one team, let alone combining 30 teams into one list. Here is what anon1 is referring to from the Cover it Live chat about their Top 50 list:
    Adam Foster: Hellickson will be in our top 100. Clearly, he's proven that he can retire advanced hitters. I watched him in the Triple-A championship game and loved his fastball/changeup combo. He attacks hitters extremely well.

    But let's take a step back with Hellickson...a fresh look. He'll turn 23 in April. He pitched 113.0 regular season innings in 2009, 151.0 in 2008 and 111.1 in 2007. Sounds like a workhorse, right?

    Throw in a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 47 days last season (early-May through the end of June) and a fractured growth plate in the same shoulder when he was in high school, and you have at least some yellow flags. Add to those Lincoln's concerns (posted below) and I think we have a guy who's unlikely to be able to handle a starter's workload. That's why Hellickson isn't in our top 50.

    I realize that mechanical analysis still has a ways to go. But when you have a 185-pounder who's touching the mid-90s, has an injury history and has some mechanical critics, you're looking at A LOT of risk.

    Excerpt from the Digital Prospect Guide:

    "Hellickson doesn’t get the ball up to the driveline in time for the rest of the body to help with acceleration and leaves virtually all the work of applying force up to the pitching arm."

    Back to me, I understand the concerns, top xx lists are about projection and J-Hell is smallish and has had some injuries. But he just keeps moving up and succeeding at every level. It's just like Kazmir, Oswalt, Lincecum, etc, they doubt them until they make it, and then doubt they will last for long. I understand the concerns, but you have to balance doubt with results. Sometimes the little (relatively) guys make it.

    It's like Alex Cobb, to a lesser degree. People point out their flaws and they just keep producing and moving up. I guess the bottom line is that it's easy to predict success for guys with bodies like Randy Johnson, Jeff Niemann, or David Price, but guys like Hellickson and Cobb make it too.

  4. But I dont know how he can rank a guy like Strasburg then if he is going on bad mechanics.You can say he has awesome stuff but so does Helly. The only diff is the body types.And how come it seems nobody has Matt Moore as a top 50, or in some cases even a top 75 guy?A lefty with a low-mid 90s FB and a great curve. I thought it start happening after MILB ranked him I think #48 in its midseason list.

  5. This is a reasonable arguement by project prospect. Hellickson walks a fine line, his stuff is not great but just good and has to rely on his above average command/stuff to succeed. I am not sure that he projects a whole lot further. When he misses by just a little his balls can fly a long way. He has had success at every level but so had Sonny. I'd need to see him succeed at Durham for a bit longer than he has to be confident that he is MLB ready.

  6. I disagree, Hellickson's stuff is better than that(certainly better than Sonnanstine's). 92-93 fastball, plus change-up, and above-average curveball with good command of all three.

  7. To last anonymous to post.

    Its funny what you just said. You said he has to rely on his above average stuff/command to succeed. Who dosen't.

  8. Guys with much better stuff like D. Price, J. Lackey, B. Matusz, J. Arrieta, J. Chamberlain, K. Drebeck.

  9. No. I meant name a guy who does not have stuff and command but succeeds.