Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
Sometimes it just gets to me how a highly productive baseball player ,in your own farm system can fly so low under the radar, even after doing something amazing. That in this advanced electronics age of scouting and information, a surging baseball player can somehow go completely “out of sight, and out of mind” to his Major League team executives as they collectively screams and frantically searches for a player with his already apparent talent? This same scenario is happening within the Tampa Bay Rays farm system, and for some odd reason, this productive player is still sitting in front of his Triple-A locker every night suiting up.
The Rays have been searching high and low for a formidable power bat option throughout the Major Leagues, and somehow have skipped over the current Triple-A Home Run Derby Champ in their own farm system backyard. What is it that this mystery ballplayer has done to make the Rays Major League scouting department forget his name, stats or his dramatic flair for the game? It is like he is a ghost in the machine right now. How else do you explain hitting one of the most memorable Home Runs in Rays history, then not being on your team’s Spring Training invite list the following season?
Sure you might have developed double vision at one point in your past MLB career when you got suntan lotion in your eyes before an afternoon contest, but you have rebounded and proven you can be a power hitter and a consistent bat in the line-up. But then this same Rays front office sent you on a Japanese vacation as you played for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2009 like a baseball castaway. So you somehow got were sent farther out of sight and out of mind. But then these same Rays front office folks signed you in January 2010 for $500,000 and you again thought you had an honest chance to prove your worth in the Major Leagues. But again you were met with a career roadblock, and off to Triple-A obscurity you go again.
And during the 2010 Triple-A season you have gained a solid reputation for timely hits and huge Home Runs, but still you still sit in the Durham Bulls locker room waiting for that mystical call to “The Show”. You might have guessed by now, I am talking about Durham Bulls power slugger Dan Johnson. It has been a weird year for him, but what does Johnson have to do to show his willingness and abilities are just what the Rays need in their line-up without the Rays resorting to a trade? Does he have to hit 3 HR in a game? Steal a base? Or maybe Johnson just has to sit silently and watch as the parent team ache and pain for a talent like his without muttering a single word.
I consider it a crime against great Major League talent here. Are the Rays so stockpiled with talent in their minor league system that Johnson has somehow slipped through the cracks without a head nod or mention as a in-house power option? It saddens me to think that a talent like Johnson has been relegated to being a second class citizen mired in the minors when he has the abilities to not only help the Rays, but produce runs, provide depth and bring a bit of fear back into the Designated Hitter’s spot. Currently there has to be no American League pitching staff that is in fear of the Rays trio D H force of Matt Joyce, Willy Aybar or John Jaso. But could Johnson the ointment needed to finally provide some relief to that burning lack of production in the Rays line-up, or are the Rays just seeing him as another quick fix bandage?
Considering Johnson’s statistics with the Bulls this season, you have to think he is the hidden treasure trove of multiple talents the Rays have been searching for during this seasons Trade Deadline. Johnson has played in all 83 games for the Bulls. Moving around the infield from his customary first base slot and playing third base, which provides more depth and versatility to his resume’. Could his “new position” be a viable reason Johnson is being stonewalled from being brought up?
Johnson is hovering at a .295 batting average with 24 HR and 80 RBI., but Johnson also has 87 hits, which currently leads the Bulls roster. Then there was his recent show of dramatic power during Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run Derby where Johnson blasted out 25 Home Runs, and ultimately won the title. But in the event finals, Johnson and Lehigh Valley Ironpigs slugger Andy Tracy each posted 10 HR each in the final round. So it came down to a HR shootout format and Tracy did not connect on any of his five swings. It took Johnson only one swing of his bat to decide the Home Run Derby, and proved once and for all, he still has a dramatic flair to his hitting style.
But this was not the first time drama had entered Johnson’s Rays life when it came to hitting the long ball. Most Rays fans remember the Coons Rapids, Minnesota native for his improbable Home Run during a September 9,2008 contest against the Boston Red Sox. Johnson was called-up earlier in the day by the Rays and was inserted into the starting line-up, but plane delays and slow meandering cab rides brought him to Fenway Park at 6:50 pm that evening. Johnson might have been scratched from the starting nod, but he got another chance to project his broad shouldered persona on the Rays as he went to the plate as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Johnson had been called-up to the Rays after posting a .307 average with 25 HR and 83 RBI since the Rays claimed him off waivers on April 18th from the Oakland A’s. Johnson stood at the plate with the game on the line and put a Papelbon fastball clear into the stands above the Red Sox Bullpen in right-centerfield for the first pinch-hit Home Run of Johnson’s career. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in the last 50 years that a player had hit a September Home Run in the ninth inning (or later) in his first at bat for a first place team. Johnson had made an immediate impact on his new Rays teammates, even before formally meeting most of them.
But why is it that the scouts and the Rays front office do not find Johnson so alluring right now for their slumping DH spot? Johnson is a guy who has toiled and done his time in both the minor leagues and abroad to show he has the innate ability and the broad confidence to hit both for average, and for power in dramatic settings. That is the type of player who is now being sought after by the Rays through the Major League grapevine. But it is really a tragedy that we have a proven asset sitting just up the Atlantic Seaboard Coastline in North Carolina who would not cost the team another single penny or a player from their packed farm system.
The Rays are actively doing their window shopping around the Major League right now looking for the same option they have in-house and who is ready for the phone call. It seems a bit illogical to send talent or even money to bring in a high cost alternative to hit for the Rays when you already have a proven commodity right in your system. Hopefully within the next few days, the Rays brass will somehow rediscovery Johnson and his talents because I would love to see him hit the ball “out of sight“, and if the Rays forget about this great player, and let him fester in the minor leagues, then they are “out of (their) minds“.
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