BLUF: Workhorse #4 starter profile that could arrive in the big leagues quickly.
The Player: Erik Johnson (RHP, Chicago White Sox) – The Sox second round pick out of Cal in 2011, Johnson pitched in only two games last year. He missed time at the start of 2012 with shoulder soreness but came out strong in Low-A, posting a 2.30 ERA in nine starts while striking out nearly a batter per inning. The White Sox promoted him to High-A around mid-season and he continued to pitch well with Winston-Salem, finishing the year with a 2.74 ERA in eight starts there; again striking out nearly a batter per inning.
Basis of Report: Compilation – Industry Contacts
Body (6-3, 240): Big, thick body. More strong than beefy. Built for innings but has to prove his arm can handle it.
Delivery/Mechanics: Struggles with mechanical consistency at times. Gets off balance and loses his line to the plate. When in sync, can show easy, power-pitchers delivery with good drive and good finish.
Fastball (FB) Velocity (Wind-up): High – 96, Low – 89, Average 92-93, Grade – 60/60
Fastball (FB) Velocity (Stretch): High – 95, Low 88, Average 92-93, Grade – 60/60
Fastball (FB) Movement: Good natural life but no exceptional movement. Can be squared when up in the zone. Lacks jump or movement necessary to miss the barrel of the bat consistently. Grade – 50/50
Overall Fastball: Good, quality pitch. With in-sync delivery, FB can get on hitters quickly and be blown by them. Has potential to sit a half-tick higher than projected grade with more mechanical consistency and additional strength from a pro conditioning/workout program. Overall, solidly plus pitch that he can lean on. Grade – 60/60
Slider (SL): Focused more on SL this year as opposed to two breaking balls (SL and CB) that he did in college. As a result, SL tightened and became true weapon. Very tight spin and good bite. Has bat-missing ability. Legit plus pitch that can be thrown for strikes and used as a chase pitch. Grade – 60/60
Change-up (CH): Lags behind two primary pitches. Well below-average. Too firm. Often overthrows and will decrease arm speed to slow it down. Pitch has some sink at slower speeds. Needs a lot of work and limited feel for offering suggests it will remain below-average long term. Grade – 30/40
Control: Strike throwing improved late in the year as he gained additional consistency with his delivery. Has just enough athleticism and he can flash the mechanical simplicity necessary to pound the strike zone with both FB and SL. Should grade out easy plus long term and wouldn’t be surprised if he surpassed that projection. Grade – 50/60
Command: Still struggles to locate FB to both sides of the plate. Has shown ability to elevate and work low but must refine ability to move to all four quadrants when he needs to. Mechanics will never be completely consistent but he should get close enough to have fringy-average command. Grade – 30/40
Summation: Has to demonstrate durability with a full season of starts. Has workhorse build and two plus pitches that can get hitters out. FB is quality pitch that can overpower hitters at the higher velocity range and will play even better with improved command. SL is go-to pitch for swings and misses or weak contact. True plus pitch that some scouts believe could be better than that. CH is a non-factor at present. Control and command have improved but still show room for more growth. Good competitor that has enough polish in game to move quickly. Potential #4 starter. CH and command must come along for projection to increase.
Relative Risk: Moderate. Would be low risk if not for the shoulder fatigue experienced at the start of the 2012 season.
Future: Despite only eight starts at High-A in 2012, Johnson’s FB-SL combo and solid overall ability could push him to Double-A to open the 2013 season. He isn’t far away from pitching at the back of a big-league rotation and could make his debut next year.