Kelly Johnson: The Braves Biggest Surprise

Braves fans felt nostalgic on January 21st when it was announced that the team had signed Kelly Johnson to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Johnson was drafted by the Braves nearly fifteen years ago with the 38th pick in the 2000 MLB Draft. Five years later, Johnson made his Major League debut as a leftfielder for the Braves as part of the 2005 Baby Braves roster that contained 18 rookies, including Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur. Despite the youth movement, the Braves went on to achieve a 90-72 record with Bobby Cox at the helm. Unfortunately for Kelly, he suffered an elbow injury during spring training prior to the 2006 season. That offseason, Johnson worked with former first base Coach Glen Hubbard to learn how to play second base. Kelly Johnson returned in 2007 as the leadoff hitter and starting second basemen for the Braves. Kelly went on to be the everyday second baseman for the Braves for three more seasons, until being non-tendered by the Braves at the end of the 2009 season.

Kelly then went on to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he would have a career year in 2010, hitting .284 with 26 home runs and 71 RBI. Unfortunately, Johnson hasn’t hit for much of an average since. From 2011-2014, Kelly bounced around between 6 teams (including every AL East team) and though he still hit for some power, he struggled to hit above .230. When Kelly came in this Spring Training, not many knew what to expect. He said that a big factor in him choosing the Braves was that he still lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and children and wanted to be close. I personally figured he would make the roster due to his power, experience and versatility. I was correct. Kelly hit .309 in spring, and rightfully earned himself a roster spot on Opening Day. He has continued to consistently show his worth to the team. Johnson owns a .250 average with 6 homers and 17 RBI, with 4 of these homers and 13 of the RBI in the last 10 games.

Johnson is starting nearly every day for the Braves, and is near his family in metro Atlanta. Prior to Sunday’s game, his son got to play a little league tournament on Turner Field, and Kelly was greeted by his son at third base prior to the first inning. His first at-bat, Johnson hit a two-run homerun. On Tuesday, Johnson notched his 1000th career hit. Not only this, but he gets to do it for the organization that not only drafted him, but gave him a second chance. It’s clear that Kelly’s mojo is back now that he’s back where it all began and is surrounded by the people who love him most. Keep it up Kelly, Braves Country is rooting for you.

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