Results tagged ‘ Steve Johnson ’
Is he ready for the major leagues? What’s his role?
There is absolutely nothing in Steve Johnson’s 2012 season to complain about. At Norfolk, he had a 2.86 ERA, allowed 66 hits in 91 1/3 innings, struck out 85 and walked 31. OK, his walk rate was a little higher than you might like — 3.1 BB/9 IP — but it was an admirable season. He earned his first promotion to the major leagues and was, if possible, even better. A 4-0 record, a 2.11 ERA, 46 strikeouts in 38 innings — and he did all that in the heat of a pennant race.
He definitely has earned a spot on the major-league team, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. There are nine other legitimate candidates for the starting rotation. Four pitched well enough in 2012 to be considered favorites, a couple of other candidates are out of minor-league options, and a couple of others are left-handed pitchers. Johnson has options left, so if a player without options pitches well in spring training, he has a leg up on the major-league roster spot. As of this writing, I think Johnson will start 2013 at Norfolk, but there’s a very good chance he’ll be promoted to the Orioles early and/or often.
There is one other caveat. Johnson pitched extremely well at Norfolk in 2012, but extremely poorly at Norfolk in 2011. Johnson started 2012 as a spot starter/long reliever at Norfolk and had success. He pitched with more confidence and trusted his stuff; he was very tentative in 2011. When a spot in the starting rotation became available, he moved into it and continued to pitch well. We do need to see if 2012 was an aberration, or if he really has improved.
Johnson really hadn’t been counted for much before the 2012 season. I think that the lack of pressure allowed him to focus on succeeding as opposed to not failing. We often see highly-touted pitching prospects struggle, in large part because they think they have to be perfect. When nothing’s expected of them, they focus on delivering good pitches rather than perfect pitches. And it’s almost impossible to plan to throw a perfect pitch. Good pitches are good enough.
There was an appealing symmetry in Louisville’s 2-1 win over the Tides last night. The difference in the game was that, in the Louisville fourth inning, Neftali Soto hit a double down the right-field line immediately before Mike Constanzo homered to right-center field; and, in the Tides eighth inning, Ryan Adams hit a double down the left-field line immediately after Joe Mahoney homered to right-center field. Double before home run — two runs and a win; double after home run — one run and a loss.
Most of the time, while I’m scoring a game, interesting trends or unusual events come to my attention. That’s because the games move slowly enough to give me time to review the scoresheet. Last night’s game moved quickly indeed; the nine innings were completed in less than two hours. Partly, that was because both starting pitchers — Jeff Francis for Louisville and Steve Johnson for the Tides — were very good; the Tides got eight baserunners off Francis and reliever Josh Judy and Louisville got six baserunners off Johnson and reliever Miguel Socolovich. And, perhaps because there weren’t runners on base, Johnson worked quickly and Francis worked very quickly. As a result, I had to stay focused on the immediate events on the field and couldn’t look back for interesting things.
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.