In late January the Atlanta Braves traded prized third baseman, Martin Prado and five prospects to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for outfielder Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson.
It was the blockbuster deal of the off season due to the fact that Braves GM Frank Wren united Justin with his older brother, B.J. in the Atlanta outfield. But to many baseball fan's surprise, it has been Johnson that has become the real star of the trade. And he has made his case as one of the premier hitting third basemen in the National League and a potential batting title.
Meant to be a platoon player with Juan Francisco at third baseman, Johnson took over as the everyday starter at the hot corner after the Braves designated Juan Francisco for assignment in late May. A four-year veteran, Johnson began his career with the Houston Astros and was traded midway through the 2012 season to Arizona.
This season, the 28-year-old is hitting .334 with 144 hits, 10 home runs, and 58 runs batted in. Since becoming eligible to contend for the batting title in the National League, Johnson has either been ahead or neck and neck with Cardinals catcher, Yadier Molina for highest batting average.
If Johnson does indeed win the coveted batting title, it will be the first time a Braves player has won the coveted award since the man Johnson replaced, Chipper Jones, won it back in 2009.
With this incredibly successful season for Johnson, the question that arises comes with great respect for Johnson's great season. The question is: How is Chris Johnson having such a breakout season, and yet not be known to the everyday baseball fan?
The answer, a simple one, can be broken down in two ways.
In the high-profile nature of the trade, Johnson's name was overshadowed by the superstar potential of Upton uniting with his brother in the outfield for the Braves. When news broke of the trade between the two clubs, I and many other Braves fans thought that because manager Fredi Gonzalez said he would have a platoon at third base, Chris Johnson would be nothing but an average and forgettable third baseman.
When Francisco was sent for assignment, Johnson's role grew into the everyday starter role and he thrived from the first at-bat. The other component of how Johnson has had such a successful season comes from his up bringing in the Major Leagues.
Having been under the umbrella of such a small market franchise such as the Astros, Johnson's season after season consistency was not shown off to major market teams. Having hit progressively better each and every season, Johnson moved from middle-level teams like the Diamondbacks and now to the Braves, still overshadowed by the stars on the team.
As a Braves fan, I want Johnson to not only win the National League batting title but also do it as the unforgettable threat that the Atlanta Braves have standing at the hot corner.
I also highly doubt that he will play up to his predecessor's immortal initials of "C.J." but Chris Johnson is shaping himself up to be a dynamic force in the newly rejuvenated lineup for the Atlanta Braves for many years to come.
By: Neil Shelat
St. Louis Cardinals