ATLANTA - As soon as the Atlanta Braves decided against keeping Marcus Giles as their second baseman, talk surfaced from the organization that Kelly Johnson would be a top candidate to win the job in 2007.
The Braves take pride in finding new starters from their farm system, but this planned promotion is different for two big reasons:
- Johnson has never played a game at second base as a professional.
- Johnson is less than a year removed from Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his right (throwing) elbow.
Those are two reasons he has been working out all winter at Turner Field with Braves first base coach and former longtime second baseman Glenn Hubbard. No matter his lack of experience at the position or his 2006 elbow surgery, Johnson says he'll be ready to take the starting job when spring training begins in February.
"I'm going to take full advantage and I'm going to go in there with the attitude that I am starting and go from there," Johnson said after taking infield practice with Hubbard on a windy and cold Thursday morning at Turner Field.
"I've still got to make some strides to come back with live pitching and to come back from not playing the infield for a couple of years. It's going to take some work."
Johnson had the reconstructive surgery in June and late in the year began to think of second base as more than just an option to the outfield. It soon was made clear to Johnson that second base could be his path back to a starting job in the major leagues.
"To me he looks as comfortable as anybody else out there," Hubbard said after Thursday's workout.
Johnson already has a vote of confidence from Braves general manager John Schuerholz.
"Kelly Johnson is a young man we think offensively with no doubt can help our ballclub and perhaps even serve as the leadoff hitter," Schuerholz said. "He's got to show he can be our second baseman. We think he can."
Johnson won't win the job by default. Other contenders will include Martin Prado, who made his major league debut last season, Willy Aybar, Pete Orr and newly acquired Chris Woodward, who spent the past two years as a utility infielder with the New York Mets.
"I think he's enthusiastic," Hubbard said of Johnson. "I think he's excited about the opportunity."
"I think he knows he can do this," Hubbard added, swinging an imaginary bat. "I think he's always thought he can play defense, too."
DATES OF INTEREST
Feb. 15: Voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players
Feb. 20: Voluntary reporting date for other players
Feb. 27: Mandatory reporting date
March 1: Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers; first spring training game
April 2: Braves at Philadelphia Phillies; regular-season opener
Sources: Associated Press, mlb.com