03/03/2008 12:35 PM ET
Kelly Johnson: Second year at 2B
Leadoff man can prepare to play rather than compete for a spot
I was nervous going into last season because I'd been sidelined all of 2006. I didn't know what to expect considering all of the at-bats and playing experience I'd lost. But that wasn't the only thing on my mind -- I was also switching to second base and trying to learn about fielding a new position.
So I wasn't too confident coming in. In fact, I was a little scared. But taking the groundballs and making some plays helped. Then to make the club and have Bobby Cox tell me that I'm going to play every day and bat leadoff -- that gave me a boost.
To be able to break spring with Atlanta and play every day at a new position was pretty sweet for me. It was a lot of hard work but it was a lot of fun, too.
There's quite a difference this year in camp. We always do early work in the infield, and last year it seemed like everyone who had an infielder's glove was out there competing to play second base. We were 10 deep out there.
This year I know I'm going to get an opportunity, which provides the breathing room to get ready for the season on my own terms. I don't think I've been in the position to approach my job this way since the spring I went from Low A to High A.
But I still have plenty of work to do and plenty of room for improvement. Even guys who have played a position their entire career are learning new things and improving every season.
Defense is still a work in progress for me. My main focus is to become more aggressive with my feet. I don't want to find myself playing a ball up the middle backhanded when I should be busting my butt to surround the ball and take it in front of me.
I'd like to become a better basestealer, too. I want to do a better job of taking advantage when a catcher is having trouble throwing or when a pitcher is slow to the plate. Working on that first-step quickness and taking better leads should help.
Offensively, I'm trying to be the same type of hitter I've always been, only better. I struck out more than 100 times last year, and I need to cut down on that. In part that was a product of being too patient at times. There were too many times when I took strike three on pitches I could hit.
A lot of these things will come with experience, too. As I get more comfortable, I'll be able to gradually improve.
After sitting out the 2006 season following Tommy John surgery, Kelly Johnson returned to the lineup and sucessfully made the transition from playing the outfield to second base last year. He batted .276 with a .375 on-base average, 16 home runs and 68 RBIs for the Braves. He was also third in the NL with 10 triples.