Toolsy Johnson has Tito, Indians dreaming big

March 9th, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Daniel Johnson has been one of the Indians’ most talked about prospects since being acquired by the organization in the offseason. After manager Terry Francona has gotten a few weeks to get a glimpse of Johnson’s skill set, he can’t help but dream about what the young outfielder’s future could hold.

It was the end of November, and Johnson had just recently gotten home from playing in the Arizona Fall League. He had seen a list, put out by Baseball America, of prospects from each organization who are most likely to be traded during the offseason, and his name was listed under the Nationals. His three friends from the organization started texting him in a group chat, saying he was going to be dealt.

“I’m like, ‘Whatever. You always say that and then nothing ever happens,’” Johnson said.

Just 10 minutes later, his friends responded, saying he was traded. At first, Johnson thought they were joking and told them to stop. They responded with screenshots of tweets that reported he was going to Cleveland.

“After seeing that, it was, like, overwhelming,” Johnson said. “I started panicking, like, what do I do? I called my agent and was like, ‘Yo, I just got traded to the Indians. I don’t know what to expect. What do I do?’”

Once Johnson received confirmation from the Nationals that he was traded, he quickly realized the Indians were in need of outfielders, and, even though he hasn’t been above Double-A, he knew that he’d have a better opportunity to get to the Major Leagues with the Tribe.

“I was kind of backed up [in Washington], so after realizing that, I was more happy to come here,” Johnson said. “The big picture is always there, going to the big leagues. But I’m just trusting the process and just taking it one day at a time.”

When looking at the scouting report for the Indians’ No. 22 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, there’s a lot to be excited about. Johnson has plus-plus arm strength that allowed the 23-year-old to record 11 assists in just 92 games last year. The man his teammates call, “Jet,” a nickname they got from his social media username, “Jet Johnson” -- based on the television series, “The Famous Jett Jackson” -- also has above-average speed, swiping 22 bags in 2018.

“Speed is one thing you can’t teach,” Johnson said. “Either you have it or you don’t. I guess it can be developed over time, but when you have a lot of speed, it’s not something you can teach. … I’ve always had a strong arm, so being able to use it now, it’s great.”

Johnson has shown he has the speed and arm strength of a Major Leaguer, and has displayed some power at the plate, but he still has to prove he can hit consistently and can handle left-handed pitching. No, Johnson will not break camp with the Tribe, but through the first three weeks of Spring Training, he has shown enough potential at the plate to catch Francona’s eye and have him dreaming about what his outfield could look like in the near future.

“There’s so much to like about him,” Francona said. “Work ethic, the kind of kid he is. When you see him play well and you see, ‘Whoa, that’s what that could be.’ Now, they grow into consistency. They grow into being able to sit back on an offspeed pitch. But you can’t teach guys to hit a fastball. If they can’t get to a fastball, they can’t get to it. Guys that can get to a fastball, you can teach them.

“It takes time sometimes to be able to hit an offspeed pitch, or a breaking ball or even to be able to lay off. But a guy that can hit a fastball, it allows you to dream a little bit.”