Then name Dan Johnson doesn't likely strike a chord with fantasy owners. We might be more inclined to think of this guy (left). However, Dan Johnson has some interesting skills that make him, to an extent, similar to former Rays first baseman Carlos Pena and even (gulp) Jose Bautista.
Between triple-A and the big leagues last season, Dan Johnson hit 37 home runs in 451 at-bats. Sure, most of the damage (30 homers) came at triple-A, where he was a 30-year-old playing amongst younger, less experienced competition. However, in his 111 major league at-bats, he hit seven homers, which is an AB/HR rate of about 16. That AB/HR rate would translate to about 31 home runs in 500 at-bats. As of today, it seems that Johnson may be the everyday first baseman for the Rays and could reach or even surpass the 500 at-bat mark in 2011.
It's easy to forget that former Rays first baseman, Carlos Pena, didn't have his breakout season until age 29. Johnson is a couple of years older at this point, but he has some interesting similarities to Pena.
Johnson knows how to draw a walk. His career walk rate at the big league level is 13.3 percent, Pena's is 13.5 percent. Johnson has a career AVG of .243, Pena has a career AVG of .241. Both players have hit the majority of their home runs to their pull side, right field. In a sense, both hitters take a similar approach to the plate: Wait for the right pitch and try to yank it out of the yard.
As crazy as it sounds, there are some aspects of Johnson's game that are more desirable than Pena's. Despite seeming to be an all-or-nothing type of hitter, Johnson makes much more consistent contact than Pena (84.3 percent career contact rate compared to an extremely low 69.7 percent career contact rate for Pena). Johnson also chases fewer pitches outside the strike-zone (15.8 percent career chase rate compared to 21.6 percent for Pena). Both of those factors have led to a lower strikeout rate for Johnson.
There also isn't a real need to find a platoon partner for the left-handed hitting Johnson. He is a career .243/.346/.403 hitter against lefties and .244/.343/.427 hitter against righties.
It's tough to call a career .243 hitter a sleeper for 2011, especially with the depth at first base, but with a little luck in BABIP, who knows, he could hit .260. .260 with 30 home runs ain't too shabby, especially for a player more than likely to go undrafted.
How good would 30 undrafted home runs look at third base? In standard Yahoo! leagues, where a player is eligible at a position after five starts, Johnson qualifies at the ever so thin position of third base, having started five games there in 2010.
In leagues that use OBP instead of AVG, Johnson is actually a decent sleeper pick, even if he isn't eligible at third. Johnson's career .343 OBP is above average (.325 was the league average OBP in 2010) and he has the on-base skills to cross the .350 OBP mark should he manage to hit .250 or better.
How likely is it that Dan Johnson hits .260/.350 with 30 home runs? Based on major league track record, not very high. However, all the ingredients are there (walk rate, contact rate, and AB/HR rate) for a surprise breakout season, not unlike what Jose Bautista did last season. OK, hold the phone, I'm not calling for 50 home runs here, simply pointing out the similarities in walk rate, contact rate and AB/HR (actually, Johnson would have a better AB/HR rate were it not for Bautista's 54 HR spike in 2010).
While changes could occur by opening day, Dan Johnson stands to get a real shot at the everyday first base job in Tampa Bay. The Rays have quickly become an organization known for it's savvy moves. This could be yet another notch in their belt.
For fantasy GM's looking for a possible bargain on draft day, take a look at Dan Johnson as a last round option, especially in OBP leagues. Throwing a dollar bid out there can't hurt, it's what I did in an auction league last year on a player named Jose Bautista.
Contact Charlie Saponara