Ex-A's first baseman now in Rays camp as knuckleball pitcher


Ex-A's first baseman now in Rays camp as knuckleball pitcher

Dan Johnson has spent the last seven seasons making brief stops in the majors as a 10-year journeyman. The last time he played over 100 games in the bigs was with the Oakland A's in 2007 as the team's first baseman. 

Johnson, 36, has made stops with six different clubs, but his four years in Oakland were the longest he ever spent anywhere. Last year he played just 12 games in the pros, getting 19 at-bats for the St. Louis Cardinals. 

But, Johnson is a baseball lifer and is back with a club he already played with for three years -- the Tampa Bay Rays. Only this time, there's a big change to Johnson putting on a Rays uniform. 

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Johnson has signed a minor league deal with Tampa Bay not as first baseman or DH, but as a knuckleball pitcher, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

"This is something I really wanted to try out," Johnson told Topkin.

In his professional baseball career, Johnson has never pitched. Making the change won't be the first time Johnson plays with the rare pitch, though. 

[STIGLICH: Manaea impresses in A's debut, earns another start]

"It's not the first time I've tried this out, but this is the first time I feel like I can take it seriously."

With the A's, Johnson enjoyed the best years of his career, hitting 15 home runs as a rookie in 2005 and 18 two years later in 2007. He hit .249/.344/.419 with 42 home runs in four seasons in Oakland. 

A's 2019 Projections: Josh Phegley could start unless team makes moves


A's 2019 Projections: Josh Phegley could start unless team makes moves

Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports California will be analyzing a different A's player each day to project their numbers for next season.

Unless the A's add another catcher, Josh Phegley is poised to get the most playing time of his big league career. Phegley and Chris Herrmann are currently the only catchers on the A's active roster and they figure to platoon behind the plate.

Last season, Phegley hit .204/.255/.344 with two home runs, seven doubles, and 15 RBI in 39 games. The 30-year-old re-signed with the A's in November for one year at $1.075 million.

Phegley has a career slash line of .223/.264/.372. His best season came in 2015 when he hit .249/.300/.449 with a career-high nine homers and 34 RBI.

Phegley has performed slightly better against left-handed pitching throughout his career, hitting .243/.279/.414. The right-handed hitter figures to get most of next season's at-bats against southpaws, with Herrmann starting against righties.

Phegley has also been solid defensively throughout his career, maintaining a .992 fielding percentage and throwing out 33 percent of attempted base stealers, five points above the league average.

Baseball Reference projects Phegley to hit .223/.285/.368 next year with six home runs, 15 doubles, and 28 RBI. They estimate him at 242 at-bats, which would be a career-high.

[RELATED: Chris Herrmann 2019 projections]

Phegley has done everything the A's have asked of him over the years and proven to be a consistent player and great clubhouse presence. We expect a slight improvement from last season, especially if he gets increased playing time.

Projection: .227/.297/.374, 6 HR, 12 doubles, 27 RBI

2019 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. has Kyler Murray as No. 13 pick

2019 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. has Kyler Murray as No. 13 pick

Ever since A's top-prospect Kyler Murray declared for the NFL Draft, the question is how he would fair in football.

And while we are still waiting to determine if football is indeed in his imminent future, draft experts are determining where they picture Murray will go. 

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., has Murray going in the first round: the No. 13 overall pick to the Dolphins.

"The Dolphins need to rebuild," Kiper writes. "What better way to start that rebuild than to take the Heisman Trophy winner? Now, just because Murray has entered the draft, doesn't mean he's sticking to football. He could stick back out and play baseball. But I'm treating him as if he's all-in for now, and if he goes to the combine -- he's going to run a blazing 40-yard dash -- and goes through workouts for the teams, I expect him to be picked in Round 1. This is an unprecedented situation for a 5-foot-10 quarterback, but it's going to be fun to watch over the next few months."

Murray's height is the one knock on the Heisman Trophy winner, but Doug Flutie says hello.

Murray sticks out by being a phenomenal passer and runner. He threw for 4,361 yards at Oklahoma and ran for 1,001 more yards on the ground. The combo of his arm strength and his speed makes him the type of quarterback teams are willing to take a chance on. 

[RELATED: Baseball, football scouts weigh in on Murray's decision]

It's still early in projections and especially early in teams' evaluations, but the Heisman Trophy winner appears to be a lock for the first round.

It's just a matter of when.