Versatile Johnson ready for any role with Yankees
Veteran infielder eager for opportunity in New York, could see time at third
NEW YORK -- Kelly Johnson's versatility was a major selling point for the Yankees this offseason, and with so much uncertainty lingering on the club's depth chart, the veteran said he will be prepared to serve as the Opening Day third baseman if needed.
Johnson signed a one-year, $3 million deal last month with the Yanks, who were attracted to his left-handed power as well as his ability to bounce around to several positions, something he exhibited last season with the Rays.
"My thinking coming in is to be prepared, work my butt off and get my work in," Johnson said. "I'll get my early work in at third, go to second, go everywhere. I've got to think that I'm going to play in a lot of different places. That's my thinking. I'm definitely not going to come in making any assumptions."
Johnson, who turns 32 in February, batted .235 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs in 118 games for Tampa Bay last year. He has seen the bulk of his professional action at second base and had not played a big league inning at third base until last season, when he saw action in 16 games there.
That's a position of need for the Yankees, who learned Saturday that Alex Rodriguez will be suspended for the entire 2014 season, including the postseason. Johnson currently projects as the leading candidate to handle the starting duties.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said last summer that Johnson had exceeded expectations at the position. Reminded of that comment, Johnson laughed and said, "I think I was scared. I was scared every pitch."
"I was definitely reacting and living in the moment," Johnson continued. "To be honest with you, that probably played a part in playing pretty well and being adequate over there, being more in the moment and focusing on being ready each and every pitch.
"I enjoyed it, it definitely got my heart going and kept me on my toes a little bit, but at the same time I thought my skills transitioned over there fairly well. In the infield, you've got to catch the ball first and make a good throw. It's all the same fundamentals."
Johnson said that he spoke recently to manager Joe Girardi, who advised Johnson to come to Spring Training ready to continue working at different positions. Johnson played 53 games in left field last year, 22 at second base and three at first base.
"I have to come in this spring and find the infield coaches and drag them out there to have them hit me ground balls," Johnson said. "It doesn't come as easy for me as it does for others, so I always have to work twice as hard as everyone else to be really good in the infield. That's fine, I have no problem putting in the work."
Johnson will find a few familiar faces in the clubhouse. New Yanks catcher Brian McCann, a former teammate with the Braves, is one of Johnson's best friends in baseball. Johnson said that he also got a chance to get to know Mark Teixeira during their time together in Atlanta.
"The guys that I know that have been there, they've said so many nice things about their time there," Johnson said. "Aside from it being the Yankees and all their tradition, in terms of the clubhouse and Joe and the atmosphere, I'm excited."
Girardi has described Johnson as a player who "changes the game fairly quickly" and "is productive in the amount of at-bats he gets." The owner of 124 career homers, including a career-high 26 in 2010 with the Diamondbacks, Johnson said that he is eager to see what effect Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch will have on his power numbers.
"It's easy to picture that fence. It's going to be interesting to see how I handle being on a field that has that enticing you," Johnson said. "There might be a little angel or devil on your shoulder telling you, 'Yank it, wrap it over that fence.' You've still got to do the same things, put together good swings, and hopefully some of those balls to the warning track will get out."