Johnson out to prove there's more left in the tank

At 38, pinch-hitting specialist eyes final spot on Marlins' roster

Johnson out to prove there's more left in the tank

JUPITER, Fla. -- Coaching may be part of Reed Johnson's future. But in the present, the 38-year-old's primary focus is on making the team.

A non-roster invite to Marlins camp, Johnson finds himself in a similar spot as last year -- trying to prove he has more game left in him.

"I'm not a guy who will think I can play when I can't," Johnson said. "I know I still have got baseball left."

Miami is giving the 13-year veteran a chance to prove it. Johnson did just that in 2014, signing a Minor League deal with no guarantee of making the club. He outright won a bench job.

Johnson became a valuable pinch-hitter, collecting 16 pinch-hits to go along with batting .235 overall in 201 plate appearances.

"If you have a guy who can go good stints without playing, but still give you good at-bats against the eighth- and ninth-inning guys when you need them to, that's kind of what I was proud of myself," Johnson said. "I got some big hits in big situations."

Making the Marlins will be a tall task because Ichiro Suzuki is already signed as the fourth outfielder.

So the question becomes: Will Miami carry five outfielders? It is possible, but there is a lot of competition.

In terms of the bench, three of five spots are secured with catcher Jeff Mathis, infielder Jeff Baker and Ichiro. So barring injury, there are two position player spots open, and one of those will be an infielder who can back up at shortstop.

"When they signed [Ichiro], I just didn't know," Johnson said. "I tried to think about other spots. There are some teams out there who needed some right-handed help. I understand my role. For management in the offseason, usually that role gets finished last. They are going to take care of all their big free agents and big trades -- and all the kind of bigger pieces. Then, the last pieces to fall are guys in my role."

If Johnson senses he isn't part of Miami's plans, he can opt out of his contract on March 28. And if his MLB career is drawing to a close, coaching could be a possibility. However, Johnson has three children and may opt to spend more time at home.

"I had kids later in life on purpose, because I knew I was the type of guy who wants to be around a lot and not missing anything," Johnson said.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.