Don’t try telling Johnson he’s a lock to start at third base for the Atlanta Braves after finishing second in the National League in hitting in 2013. Johnson is determined to work even harder this offseason to prove he deserves the job.
Hard work paid off last season, when Johnson hit .321, finishing second in the NL to Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer. Johnson said he doesn’t dare change that successful approach, so he was back at Turner Field on Friday, just as he has been every day of the informal pitchers’ camp the last two weeks.
“I’m really superstitious so I’m trying not to make it any different,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to come into camp trying to win a job. That’s my mentality, just because I want to continue to progress and have a real good year. I’m trying everything to keep my mind on the same path as last offseason, so that’s why I’m here.
“I’m trying to stay on that path as much as possible.”
One year ago, Johnson was expected to share playing time with Juan Francisco. Johnson quickly won the job outright, and Francisco was traded to Milwaukee on June 3.
Johnson enjoyed a consistent season, hitting .330 before the All-Star break and .311 after the break. He didn’t hit below .273 in any month and finished with 12 homers and 68 RBIs in 142 games.
“I’m really proud of how last year went,” he said. “It’s something that I’ll never forget. ... It was definitely something that I don’t want to forget, but it’s a new season so you’ve got to move on quick. If you don’t, this game will leave you behind quick.”
Johnson’s solid season was important for the Braves in their first season following Chipper Jones’ retirement.
“Chris did a great job,” said general manager Frank Wren. “He settled in and gave us quality at-bats all year long. I think it was nice to see because that was a big spot to fill.”
Johnson said the idea of replacing Jones “was tough at first.”
“The guy is a god around here,” he said. “Playing well definitely helped that. I think I did a good job, and it helped also coming into camp platooning with Juan. It wasn’t all on me.”
Playing with Houston and Arizona in 2012, Johnson hit .281 and set career highs with 15 homers and 76 RBIs. He said Braves batting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher helped him boost his average, even if that meant a slight reduction in his power numbers.
“I just think the coaching staff over here helped me realize what kind of player I want to be, what kind of hitter that I should be,” Johnson said. “I shouldn’t be a guy that’s going out there trying to hit 30 home runs. I need to take my hits going the other way, definitely going to right field. So that’s the guy I want to be. I want to be around .300 and if those other power numbers come, that’s fine.”
Johnson had more success swinging at pitches in 2013 than at the snow which shut down Atlanta last month. Johnson, from Naples, Fla., said he was not prepared to battle the frozen precipitation.
“It was nuts,” he said. “Our driveway is really steep. It was full of ice and snow. I’m from Florida. I don’t have a shovel or anything. I went out there with a broom. That didn’t work.”
It’s no wonder Johnson was smiling Friday as he watched workers load boxes from the Braves clubhouse on an equipment truck headed to spring training.
Braves pitchers and catchers report for spring training Thursday. Other players report Feb. 18.
“It just got real,” he said. “It’s exciting. (Friday was) a big day. I’m going home right now and start packing.”