Steve Johnson is yet another prospect who joined the Orioles as a result of a 2009 trade. This one sent O's closer George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Josh Bell (who you'll see later on this list) and Johnson. Johnson turned in quite an impressive performance in his debut with the organization, which desperately needed arms after promoting five of its top pitchers to the Major League level.
Coming to Baltimore was like coming home for Johnson, both literally and figuratively. Johnson was born in Baltimore, and pitched in high school for the nearby St. Paul's squad. Johnson's father, Dave, was drafted by Baltimore and pitched for them for two years (1974-5), and is now a broadcaster for the O's.
In fact, the elder Johnson was broadcasting the O's game on July 30th when he was given the news that his son was returning to Baltimore to pitch for the family's hometown club.
The feel-good story aside, Johnson is quite the prospect in his own right. He was ranked as the Dodgers' 15th-best prospect by Baseball America before the season, and considering the season he had, he will no doubt be ranked higher going into 2010.
This year was very kind to Johnson, who began the season with Los Angeles' High A affiliate, where he led the league with eight wins. Not normally known as a strikeout pitcher, Johnson also paced the league with 102 Ks in only 96.2 innings.
His performance there earned him a mid-season All-Star nod, as well as a promotion to AA Chattanooga. Johnson was even better once he hit AA, striking out 15 batters in only 10.2 innings in two games. It was after his second start that he received the news that he had been included in the package that sent him to Baltimore.
Upon arrival, Johnson was assigned to AA Bowie, where after a rough debut, he continued his string of unprecedented success at the level. Johnson responded with a 3-2 record in seven games as a Baysock, and finished with a 2.84 ERA.
For the year, Johnson finished with one of the best stat lines in the minors—a 12-7 record, 3.41 ERA, and 154 strikeouts in 145.1 innings.
There's more to Johnson than just the impressive stats, though. While his stuff isn't as explosive as Jacobson's, his baseball intelligence is off the charts (thanks Dad!). He is widely known as one of the smartest pitchers around, and his desire to win is impressive.
In terms of stuff, the cupboard isn't thread-bare. Johnson compliments a low 90s fastball with a so-so curve and an average changeup. The pitch Johnson is working hard at developing, however, is a slider that made great strides this year.
Ask any scout and they'll project Johnson as back of the rotation starter at best, but most likely a long reliever. Interesting...
That's what they said about Brad Bergesen because his stuff wasn't overpowering. Like Johnson, Bergesen was a smart pitcher, and a pretty darn good one, too. Both pitchers feature low 90s fastballs and so-so secondary stuff and yet both have managed to dominate in the minors.
Next season will mark Johnson's sixth year in pro ball. He should start out in AA Bowie, and could see a considerable amount of time in AAA with Norfolk. The pitching depth at Bowie could include Brandon Erbe, Chorye Spoone, Zach Britton and Tim Bascom, so Johnson should be a part of a pretty impressive rotation. Given the tender age of Erbe and Britton and the rehabbing nature of Spoone, Johnson could be asked to lead the rotation.
I think Johnson will spend half the year at Bowie, guiding the younger (in age and talent) guys, before reaching AAA around mid-season. From there, it's anyone's guess. Johnson could have a Bergesen-type year and could even make an impact on the Major League level.
Should an injury arise in the Baltimore rotation, I would expect Jake Arrieta to get the nod, but after him, Johnson could be the O's best bet.