Steve Johnson, starting pitcher
Does he have a chance to be a major-league starter?
Johnson was the less-well-known piece (along with Josh Bell) acquired when the Orioles traded George Sherrill. When the Orioles got him in 2009, he was 21 and the Orioles assigned him to AA Bowie, where he posted a 2.89 ERA in 38 innings. The Orioles had no opening in AAA Norfolk in 2010, and Johnson was still just 22, so they reassigned him to Bowie for 2010, and he posted a 5.09 ERA in 145 innings. The Orioles sent him back to Bowie for 2011, and in ten starts (58 innings) he posted a 2.16 ERA. With the Norfolk pitching staff in disarray, Johnson was called up. At first, he was terrible, seemingly afraid to throw strikes early in the count and then being forced to groove pitches. Because the Orioles had no other options, they kept Johnson in the rotation, and he began to pitch with more confidence and better results, although his overall AAA numbers aren’t impressive (2-7, 5.56 ERA, 101 hits allowed in 87 innings, 47 walks and 63 strikeouts.) At the end, he actually outpitched Braves’ star prospect Julio Teheran (OK, so it was a one-inning start in a game interrupted by rain, but Johnson’s 1 0 0 0 0 2 is better than Teheran’s 1 1 0 0 0 2).
Barring an unbelievably good spring training, Johnson has no chance of making the Orioles out of spring training, nor does he deserve to be considered a good prospect. He gives up too many hits and doesn’t strike out enough batters. But many teams have a pitcher who just plugs along, slowly moving up the ranks, eventually proving he deserves a shot. And sometimes they take advantage of their shot; Ivan Nova of the Yankees is that sort of pitcher. Johnson might prove to be that guy for the Orioles, the guy who comes up when there’s no other options and turns it into a decent career.