Madison Bumgarner is being enshrined into the Augusta Greenjackets Hall of Fame. MadBum absolutely demolished the South Atlantic League (SALLY) as a flame-throwing 19 year old in 2008. It was that dude, and that performance, which I credit today for hooking me on minor league baseball and prospecting. Before Bumgarner, I literally had never seen a minor league boxscore.
That was seven summers ago, and I’ve been checking MiLB’s boxscores nearly every day since. Since starting this blog, I’ve watched countless video of Giants prospects, whether through Youtube or MiLB.tv more recently. Prospecting is a lot of Google searching, scouring the comments section of websites, and digging up old reports and profiles that 98% of baseball fans could care less about. But for me these days (thanks to a weak internet connection), it’s still mostly checking boxscores.
Yes, sifting through boxscores can feel a little tedious after a while. But the longer you do it, the more you really start to understand what a “wow” performance really looks like. And with the amount of prospect information and scouting that’s available via Twitter these days, “scouting a boxscore” is taking on a bit more meaning.
All that being said, there’s a new name to follow in the organization.
Jordan Johnson is a right-handed pitcher the Giants selected in the 23rd round of last summer’s (2014) draft. I wrote an extensive review of that Gigantes class, and here’s what I had to say about Johnson at the time: “Pitchability righty who obviously had some sort of major injury that kept him out for nearly two full seasons. Originally from Elk Grove, drafted by the Rockies (42nd round) coming out of high school.”
Turns out that major injury was elbow-related, as he reportedly had Tommy John surgery. He returned for his junior season, but his season really wasn’t one that jumps out at you. 72.2 IP, 4.33 ERA, 15 BB and 39 K. So the Giants plucked him in the late rounds and gave him just 3 appearances in the AZL for the rest of the summer.
Sometime in the past calendar year, it appears that Johnson woke up one day and started throwing the best stuff of his life. The 21 year-old righty (who at 6-3, 175 I envision looking a bit like Matt Duffy on a mound) returned to the AZL where made 7 starts. He worked his pitch count up methodically with each new start, and peaked with a 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K outing on July 17. I don’t care who you are or when you were drafted, performances like that in professional ball make people take notice… and the organization did.
10 days later, Johnson is in Salem-Keizer where he’d make his one and only start. Just a few days after that, a spot opens up in the San Jose rotation with the trade of power arm Keury Mella, and guess who gets the first show? Jordan Johnson. Now, I’ve been following these things long enough to know that when the Giants return a college draftee to the AZL, it’s usually not a good thing. But when they jump the same player to the Cal League after only one game in short-season A-ball, that’s something worth taking notice of.
So what’s the deal with this Jordan Johnson? Well, he went out in his San Jose debut and was pretty dominant against Modesto. 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K. Yeah, I’d say that’s how you want to show up and announce your presence. When you combine all three of his stops this summer, you’ve got a 2.12 ERA over 34 IP, with 46 K and only 2 BB. Dang!
This is all good and well, but anybody can have one great start in High-A ball. There’s got to me something more here, right? Well yes, there actually is. According to SJ broadcaster Joe Ritzo and independent Twitter scout Chris Kusiolek, Johnson was throwing some major cheddar in Modesto last night. He sat 93-96 most of the night and reportedly even touched 98. 98! Ritzo added that he was throwing a plus changeup as well, and retired 11 of the last 12 hitters he faced. Wait, this guy was drafted WHEN?! Apparently the Giants MiLB pitching coordinator (Bert Bradley I believe) was in attendance. I’d have to think Johnson left one heck of an impression.
Ok, it’s never a great idea to base your opinions on one performance, regardless of the level. Considering Jose Reyes, the last right-hander I got excited about this season, has racked up a 7+ ERA in San Jose since crushing the SALLY in the first month of the season, there’s certainly reason to take caution here. But Reyes is 24, had been in the org since 2010, and really hadn’t ever shown much. Johnson is 21 with much less professional experience. And again, he hucked a 98 mph fastball last night. All I know is, I’ve seen & heard enough to be very intrigued by this guy. Safe to say I’ll be tuning in the next time Jordan Johnson steps on a pitching mound.