Can Daniel Johnson Do Enough to Crack the Indians' Opening Day Roster?

Casey Drottar

We’re a little over a month away from the Cleveland Indians’ first game of spring training, and their outfield still looks pretty dire. There are multiple options to work with, sure, but few inspire confidence.

Some have been unable to consistently prove themselves in the big leagues (Greg Allen, Bradley Zimmer).

Some impress at the plate but not so much at fielding (Franmil Reyes).

Some received ample opportunity last year despite doing everything in their power to prove it wasn’t deserved (Jake Bauers).

And then there’s Daniel Johnson.

The main return in last winter’s trade of catcher Yan Gomes, Johnson has been quickly rising through the ranks in the minors. His goal this spring is to continue the momentum, leap-frogging the competition and cracking Cleveland’s Opening Day roster.

Is this goal achievable? Can Johnson come out on top in a field where he’s the only member without any big-league experience?

It’s not impossible. That said, it won’t be easy.

Johnson is viewed by MLB Pipeline as Cleveland’s No. 16 prospect, and it didn’t take him very long start catching attention with his new team last spring.

His upward trend continued throughout the year, as it took him just 39 games to be promoted from Double-A Akron to Triple-A Columbus. There, he finished the season with an impressive slash line (.306/.371/.496), a wRAA of 10.1 and a wRC+ of 120.

It’s the kind of performance which makes Johnson someone to keep an eye on this spring, especially considering how underwhelming the current outfield situation looks for the Indians. As mentioned, though, Johnson is the only one of the group who hasn’t stepped foot on a major league diamond.

Looking at the situation, Johnson essentially has to outshine six other outfielders, and do so convincingly enough that the Indians can't play the "stick with trusted vets" card. This is also under the assumption Cleveland keeps its current options and doesn't make a free agency pickup.

It’s no easy feat. That said, what Johnson has going for him is the fact he’s not exactly competing with potential All-Stars.

Of the main outfielders heading to spring training, only Jordan Luplow and Oscar Mercado feel like sure things to make the final roster. The former finished with the highest WAR of any Cleveland outfielder last year (2.2), while the latter was right behind him (1.7).

From there, we can scratch out Tyler Naquin, who’s still recovering from ACL surgery. Likewise, while Reyes wants to log some outfield innings in 2020, he’ll likely open the year as Cleveland’s DH.

This leaves three roster spots, for which Johnson would be competing against four other players – Bauers, Zimmer, Allen and Delino DeShields Jr.

It’s not exactly Murderers' Row. These four combined for a WAR of 0.2 in 2019. When looking at the wRAA and wRC+ of each player last season (2018 for Zimmer, the last time he logged at least 100 plate appearances), Johnson surpasses everyone by a mile. Heck, he was the only one of the group who even finished with a positive wRAA last year.

Of course, there’s obviously a big difference between minor league and MLB pitching. Johnson being the only one of the group who hasn't experienced that yet is a significant hindrance which can't be overstated.

It's this lack of time in the pros which has me believing that, barring a stunningly good spring, Johnson will kick 2020 off in Columbus. One thing we know about manager Terry Francona is, in these situations, he often favors veteran players.

After all, Mercado also turned heads last spring, but opened the year in the minors due to Francona not wanting one of Cleveland’s better prospects battling through the frigid early weeks of the season. Johnson getting similar treatment this year doesn’t feel like a stretch.

With that, I’m predicting the Opening Day outfield spots go to Bauers, DeShields, Mercado, Luplow, and Allen. Zimmer has spent so much time on the shelf and will likely need a minor league tune-up before Cleveland considers calling him up.

Johnson not yet having MLB exposure likely puts him on the outside looking in, with the Indians aiming to get him everyday at-bats in Columbus until the time comes to promote him.

I will say this – said time is surely coming in 2020. That much feels like a safe bet. Just like Mercado before him, a lack of compelling big-league options should eventually force the Indians to call Johnson up to Cleveland.

It’s just a matter of when.

Comments (12)
No. 1-6

If the Indians can't sign Puig or some other big bat then let Johnson come up. What would it hurt. Tribe must get off to a good start. Remember last year with the awful start the Twins dominated the division. If the Indians had just a ok start to the season, I believe, they could of made that division look alot different. Yes try anything!!


If they are keeping Lindor this year (if) then sign Puig. He liked Cleveland, the players and Tito. On a side note the Tribe should NEVER go into a rebuild. People think nobody goes and sees them now.......just wait. And if a rebuild then the Tribe fits right in with the awful other 2 teams in Cleveland that will be like forever till we see greatness. Right now, to me, the Tribe is our only hope for a "winner" in this city. Don't we as Cleveland fans deserve this??!!


Dolan should sign Ozuna. I know......I know.... but its one of those unique situations. Not only does he fill our biggest need but he does so in a way that makes us the easy favorites for the division in one single move. Two we have a 2 year window with Lindor lets make the most of it. Three it would be one of those signings that would wake up the city and perhaps be worth it for the renewed interest it would bring the club from the fan base alone.

Normally, I get it. We are not a club that signs players like him but in this one instance it just makes so much sense.

P.S if they don't which they probably won't we need to at least get Puig back. He also would make a huge difference compared to internal options and is popular with the fans.


I don't Understand Dolan at all, He went out hired the best Manager in Baseball, And just keeps cutting the Payroll, to limit the Talent he has to work with. The Indians previous owner Spend Money put a great product on the field, And he filled the stadium, nightly selling it out. I am an old time FAN, Born up in Akron Ohio, in 53 cheered for the tribe since I can remember, the Browns to, way way back when it was the stadium on lake Erie, Saw Colovito, McDowel, Seibert, Tiant, Plenty of games, Found a old ticket stub back from the 1960`s, for a Cleveland game, general Admission get this ).25 cents, laughing. Back when TV was not color, back when film wasn't color to, They used to set players around the stadium at tables and two players sitting at them signing things and you could take photos. I still have some Black-White photos I had taken Gary Bell is one of them. I was so young and walking up to enter the old stadium, Was so Amazing never seen it in color, was Black white only on TV. Had the Chief spinning up top in bright colors, Went in saw the field the uniforms, AMAZING, of course dad pennants, etc, etc. Any one remember SUNOCO giving away Cleveland glasses, just pull in gas up get a free glass with a Indian player on it. Saw many old time stars play, Mantle Marris. several greats. Also watched several Browns games Jimmy Brown Warfield Lou the Toe Groza, more to, Stadium was so cold the cold breeze wiping in from Canada right off the LAKE, the open end of the Stadium? Back then you bought two hot cocoas to hold in each hand, Oh the fond memories, Still so special..Wish they had a owner that just once would put the money into it, and go out win a world series Ive waited forever, dying to see view it, 7 Years ago found out I had throat cancer, and the cancers gone, but due to the radiation, lot of throat damages. And I just want to see ONE TIME before I pass on, a INDIANS WORLD SERIES..With this owner highly unlikely, So sorry us fans who have stuck thru all this, WE DESERVE IT


Outfield situation is ugly and has been for years.


Johnson should get a call up around the same time Mercado did last year. He certainly has the most upside of this group. Allen and Deshields are the same player. I don’t think we can afford to keep both. Zimmer and Naquin may not be ready till June although neither of them should play every day. Luplow should be given the first chance to be an every day starter and Bauer will get his opportunities again although he’s not done much to merit them. Ultimately when they trade Frankie in July, they’ll probably get an every day Outfielder in return. Reyes should be the DH and never be in the OF unless he’s shagging balls during BP. Just my opinion.