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Johnson eager to prove himself as utility man

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Elliot Johnson has been spotted at a different infield position each day during the first few full-squad workouts for the Indians. Cleveland manager Terry Francona loves that kind of versatility and it is one reason Johnson is in the mix for a bench job.

"He's going to play everywhere, including the outfield," Francona said Wednesday. "What's so nice about Elliot is he has the ability to pinch-run and, whoever he pinch-runs for, he can go into the game and play a very solid Major League defense. That's a very valuable commodity. He can be valuable."

The Indians signed the 29-year-old Johnson to a Minor League contract on Jan. 27 and extended him an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club. The switch-hitting utility man split last season with Kansas City and Atlanta and endured plenty of ups and downs in his 111 games in the Majors.

After being traded by the Rays to the Royals last winter, Johnson hit .179 in 79 games with Kansas City. The Braves claimed him off waivers in August and Johnson hit .261 in his new uniform. In September, when Johnson earned regular action at second base, he posted a .277 average and a .712 OPS in the season's final 23 games.

"I had a tough time with the Royals," Johnson said. "It wasn't anybody's fault other than my own. You hit the ball good and they catch it. Of course, I didn't hard it as I should have, as many times as I should have. I think if you look at the BABIP or whatever everybody looks at now, it was significantly lower than it should've been. So obviously I'm a candidate for a bounceback.

"I certainly played a whole lot better with the Braves and I think that was more indicative of what I can do. Maybe not necessarily everyday type of production, but I'm certainly a guy who can fill in at different positions and start here and there, and give a number of different guys a breather. That's why I'm here."

To Johnson's point, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .243 during his time with the Royals, indicating that he ran into some hard luck. Johnson, whose career BABIP sits at .288, posted a .320 mark after joining the Braves.

Johnson said he is looking forward to his new opportunity with Cleveland.

"I just get ready, bring my gloves out and wherever they tell me to go, I go," Johnson said. "Basically, my job here is just to gain [Francona's] trust, more or less, at all the positions, as much as I possibly can, and fill in the gaps. I know I can catch the ball. Over the course of Spring Training, he'll get to move me around and see what I can or can't do with his own eyes."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.
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