Johnson just going to have to wait turn
With Feliz signing, third baseman to start at Round Rock
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Chris Johnson has heard the stories from his father about countless prospects who have had to bide their time in the Minor Leagues, waiting for what seemed like a lifetime while buried on the depth chart behind a veteran player.
Johnson's father, current Red Sox first-base coach Ron Johnson, served for five seasons as the manager at Triple-A Pawtucket in the Boston organization and saw future stars like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have to wait their turns. For Chris Johnson, the Astros' signing of Pedro Feliz could mean a second season at Triple-A Round Rock.
But Johnson remains as patient as he is optimistic and continues to soak in the advice from dad.
"He said, 'Everything's fine, don't worry about who they've got at third base, just worry about yourself and get your work done and be ready when they call your name,'" Johnson said. "That's my goal. I know what I can do, and when they give me that shot, I know that I'm going to be ready."
Astros general manager Ed Wade said the signing of Feliz, a solid offensive player and stellar defensive third baseman, to a one-year deal wasn't an indictment on Johnson.
"We had an opportunity to add a run-producing third baseman and an outstanding player in Feliz, and we took advantage of it, and we still think Chris can be our third baseman of the future and can still make the club out of Spring Training," Wade said. "The message would be to put your best foot forward and see where it all leads. If it doesn't work out that way and he ends up going to Triple-A, he won't be the first guy who's had to wait his turn."
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Spring Training Info
Johnson, 25, is entering his fourth full season in the organization that drafted him out of Stetson University in 2006. He progressed through the system methodically and last spring was ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the organization by Baseball America.
After hitting .255 in 55 at-bats last spring, Johnson began the season at Triple-A Round Rock. The Astros planned for him to spend about a month there before calling him up to be in the mix in the Majors, where Geoff Blum was forced to play more third base after Aaron Boone had heart surgery.
But fate stepped in. Johnson broke his left hand in April when he was hit by an errant pitch and spent a month on the disabled list. By the time Johnson made it to Houston, it was September. He played in only 11 games and had two hits in 22 at-bats.
"Our hope is in the future we have a lot of guys knocking on the door, having to wait to get their opportunity here," Wade said. "We think Chris has a chance to be an outstanding big league player. Our feeling hasn't changed about him at all, but if you have a chance to go out and get a guy like Feliz, it makes sense to go ahead and do that and let the chips fall where they may."
Johnson spent six weeks this offseason playing in Puerto Rico, an experience that allowed him to focus on polishing his tools instead of worrying about his stats. His tools aren't overwhelming, but he has shown power in his career, has a strong arm and can hit for average. He admitted he needs to provide plate discipline after striking out 90 times in 384 at-bats last year with 21 walks at Round Rock.
"I'm the kind of guy who wants to be aggressive," Johnson said. "I want to get the big hit, and sometimes you're going to have to take your walks, and that's one of the things I'm trying to work on."
Astros manager Brad Mills, who spent the previous six years as Boston's bench coach, has known Johnson since he was a teenager and was coming to Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla., to take batting practice with his father. The two hugged when Johnson reported for camp a few days ago.
"I remember his dad would throw him batting practice on the field, and we'd shag [balls] for him and watch him take some swings," Mills said. "He's developing into the player everybody had thought or hoped that he would be."
Johnson, who hit .281 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs in 104 games last year at Round Rock, wasn't surprised by the signing of Feliz.
"It happens," Johnson said. "It's part of baseball, and I know the game, so I know it's a business and I can't do anything about it. I can control what I can control, and that's playing good on the field."
In addition to Feliz, the Astros have Blum, Jeff Keppinger and Edwin Maysonet capable of playing third base. Johnson is in the mix, too, and has been around the game long enough to know he has to be ready whenever his time comes.
"If indeed he's back at Triple-A, that's why it's called player development," Wade said. "We're not foreclosing the possibility he ends up here. There is depth there at that position, but he needs to come out and compete and see where it leads."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.