Apr 10, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Kelly Johnson (2) and Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler (5) look to first base during the 5th inning at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Rays beat the Rangers 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly Johnson's Tenure With the Rays Takes Versatility to a New Level


From his first full season in the major leagues in 2007 up until 2012, if you were to rate Kelly Johnson‘s versatility from 1 to 10, you would have to give him a 1. He had appeared in 787 games defensively, each of them at second base. The only other position he saw time at was designated hitter, and even then, that was only 6 games. Johnson did a lot of things well, hitting for good power, showing some speed and plate discipline, and playing fine defense at his position, but versatility was not part of his game. And then Johnson came to Tampa Bay and everything changed.

In 18 games for the Rays, Johnson has now played 7 games in left field, 6 at DH, 4 at second base, and 1 at first base. In doing so, he has accomplished something that has never been done before in baseball history. He become the first player in the history of baseball who played at least 4 games at left field, DH, and second base in his first 20 games of the season and just the second to do it in under 30 games as well. To find a player that played at least 4 games at all those position and also played first base, you have to go all the way up to 50 games to find another player who did that. Which position will Johnson play primarily this season? That’s anybody’s guess. But what we do know for sure is that Kelly Johnson has gone from seemingly one of the least versatile to one of the most versatile, and the Rays will make full use of Johnson’s versatility as long as he is in Tampa Bay.

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  • Baltar

    I have never understood why players switch positions or learn to play an additional position so rarely. Sure, some players can’t handle some positions, but most should be able to play at least a couple.
    This is another great thing the Rays do that other teams don’t.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      Absolutely. This is one of the cases where the Rays have found a slight edge, using the versatility of their players to get their best hitters, regardless of position, into the lineup on a daily basis, and it’s great to see players will to learn additional positions knowing that it wlll get them in the lineup more often and make them more valuable to the team.