Weekly Prospect Spotlights: Jordan Johnson and Eastern League Notes

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Each week, Jared Wyllys digs into his notebook and shares some info on a prospect of his choice, then passes along some select entries from our 2018 Prospect Spotlight Library and 2018 Pro Scouting Report Library. This week, we get a closer look at Giants Double-A righty Jordan Johnson, who has upped his game in his second tour through the Eastern League.

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Prospect Focus: Jordan Johnson, RHP, Giants (Double-A Richmond, Eastern League)

Giants pitching prospect Jordan Johnson is in his second season in the Double-A Eastern League, and he has been noticeably better than the first. Johnson’s ERA is down by fifty points (3.98 from 4.48), his strikeout rate is up significantly (8.67 from 6.34 SO/9), and he is keeping hitters on the ground at a much higher rate (1.13 GO/AO from 0.79 GO/AO).

Some of this is due to the natural advantage of seeing the Eastern League for the second year in a row, some due to improved health – Johnson struggled with hamstring issues in 2017 that limited him to 92 innings – but the biggest factor might be how he has approached his work in between starts.

“Last year I feel like I was just kind of throwing my bullpens just to do it, and this year I’ve been actually working on stuff and working towards something instead of just kind of being there,” Johnson told 2080 Baseball. “Everything I do this year has a purpose, and everything is focused on me getting prepared for my next start.”

Johnson said this means he attacks even the simple things like towel drills with an intensity that wasn’t all the way there last year. He is also taking the opportunity to learn from fellow pitchers on his team, studying their outings to see how they attack hitters and what works for them. This has led to some changes in his pitch selection and sequencing.

“I understand pitch selection more this year, whether that be busting guys hard in and then going soft away, or just staying away from guys,” Johnson said.

By the time opposing hitters reach Double-A they have a matured approach at the plate that makes them a harder out, but Johnson said he is learning how to adapt to this as well.

“Each guy is a different battle,” Johnson said.

He has gotten better at altering his sequencing based on whether hitters are aggressive or more patient, something that he felt he learned a lot about from watching the Triple-A and major league pitchers in the Giants organization during spring training. He noted how they focus on making their pitches with greater consistency against an aggressive hitter as well as how they are better at things like hitting the zone with their off-speed stuff. The latter can be an Achilles’ Heel for young, developing pitchers, but Johnson has increased confidence in his ability to hit his spots with whatever he throws.

A three-pitch guy now, Johnson said he is toying with the idea of returning a slider to his repertoire. He has an above-average fastball and changeup to go with a decent curveball now, so adding back the fourth pitch could really accelerate him through the Giants’ system, should he choose to pursue it.

“I can pitch without it, but it would just help me that much more, so I’ve put some thought into it,” Johnson said. “I’ve played around with it in my bullpens here and there, but I’ve never really gone full out on it.”

Johnson had Tommy John surgery in high school, something he said he believes was necessary at least in part due to throwing a slider back then. Understandably, a part of his hesitancy to tackle the pitch is at least a small fear that it might lead to injury again.

“It’s something that may come in the near future, may not come ever, but for the time being I’m just going to play with it and see how it feels,” Johnson said. “I just don’t want it to end up hurting me.”

For a 23rd-rounder, Johnson has moved through the Giants farm system fairly quickly. He bypassed Low-A in 2015, going straight from the short-season affiliate in Salem-Kaizer to San Jose in the High A California League. He struggled some at that level – to be fair, it is a hitter-friendly league – but he has been much more successful at Double-A, particularly in 2018. If Johnson can continue to fan batters at such an improved rate and keep from walking too many, a jump to Triple-A, the last step before the major leagues, could come soon. –Jared Wyllys


Featured Reports: Eastern League