Cleveland has informed outfielder Daniel Johnson that he will not be making the Opening Day roster, according to manager Terry Francona.
The Indians informed Daniel Johnson this morning he wouldn't be making the Opening Day roster. He'll go to the alternate site/minors and play all three outfield spots.— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) March 19, 2021
Francona: "He was very disappointed, and we knew that was going to be the case."
Johnson has played a total of five major-league games, with a double, one walk, and five strikeouts in 12 at-bats. Sending him to Triple-A to start the year will use up one of his option years, leaving him with one left for 2022 before Cleveland will be in a make-or-break decision with the versatile 25-year-old.
The writing for Johnson appeared to be on the wall the second Josh Naylor was locked into right field, with Cleveland seeming to prefer Oscar Mercado or Bradley Zimmer to win the job in center.
Francona (and presumably the rest of the organization) has been desperate for an outfielder to prove that he can take over the center field job, but Johnson apparently has not done it to this point. Neither has Oscar Mercado or Bradley Zimmer, who have both looked shaky in spring. The team has even tried career infielder Amed Rosario in center with mixed results, but so far there is no clear-cut winner for the job with the regular season less than two weeks away.
Speaking to the media yesterday, Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said that the team believes Johnson “has the ability to play out there,” and would be getting more reps in a normal spring training. But given the roster crunch and similar players on the roster, made Johnson the odd man out essentially.
Acquired from the Washington Nationals for Yan Gomes in 2019, Johnson doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors. He hit well immediately in Double-A, slashing .253/.337/.534 with the Akron RubberDucks, and kept it up with a .306/.371/.496 slash with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in 2019. Last year was a struggle for him — as it was for most players — and he spent most of his time at the team’s alternate camp in Eastlake.
For what it’s worth, projections did not see much coming from Johnson’s bat in 2021, either, but it’s notoriously difficult to project prospects based on the external data available. Still, ZiPS had him a 76 wRC+ and Steamer had him at 83 — neither are great, but also wouldn’t be the worst center fielder Cleveland has had in the last few years.
Johnson will instead start 2021 in the team’s depth camp and eventually join the Clippers back in Triple-A when their season starts in early May.