Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 2/7/12
As the era of rebuilding resumes for the Astros this season, some young players may emerge as future core players; it will be too soon to tell on others and for some, like Chris Johnson, this is a very pivotal spring. Johnson no longer fits in the "too soon to tell" category. For the 26-year-old third baseman, 2012 is the time to determine whether he is an everyday Major League third baseman or if he will remain a player that simply can't sustain a big-league job. "It's a big year," said Johnson. "It's definitely a big year. Gotta go in and win a job. But that's what being an athlete is all about, going in there and proving that I'm the guy. Hopefully, I can do that." Johnson opened the 2011 season as the starter at third but by the end of July Johnson was sent to Oklahoma City, the Astros' Triple-A club. Johnson batted just .243 with a .289 OBP in the first half of the season and managed just 6 home runs in 311 plate appearances. So the Astros demoted Johnson in the hope that he would become a more consistent player, offensively and defensively. The experience was difficult for Johnson to swallow. "It's one of those experiences that a lot of us have never had to deal with before," he said. "Getting sent down somewhere... that was the first time in my life I had ever been sent down off of a baseball team. It was tough but, honestly, it made me stronger. I'm back here and I'm busting it harder than if (I wasn't sent down). I think it's made me a better person." Beyond the offense, the Astros would also like Johnson to get better defensively (he made 30 errors in 101 games last season) and the club wants Johnson to mature in terms of dealing with the ups and downs of an entire season. But most importantly, Johnson simply has to provide more power. At 6-3, 220, Johnson should be able to pull more fastballs into the Crawford Boxes. "Being a third base, corner guy, that's part of my job," Johnson said. "I have to drive in runs and hit for power so that's one of the things that I'm working on." But Johnson will have competition this spring in Kissimmee since 22-year-old Jimmy Paredes was given Johnson's job at third in the final month of the season. The athletic Paredes responded with a .286 average and a .320 OBP in 179 plate appearances. Paredes, too, will be given every opportunity to win the starting job according to Johnson: "The job is open. They've made that clear to both of us." Johnson sounds like a player who's matured since the days when he had difficulty controlling his temper and remaining consistent in terms of demeanor as well as at the plate. "I want to help people who are at third base," said Johnson. "I also have to remember that we're all playing for the Astros. We have to be a team. But my number one goal is to go in and win a job."
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