Prospect Watch: A New Arm to Follow

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.

Jordan Johnson. Who is this guy?! Credit; MiLB.com
Jordan Johnson. Who is this guy?! Credit; MiLB.com

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.

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15 thoughts on “Prospect Watch: A New Arm to Follow”

  1. Great post – Lefty made note of the jump yesterday and I was stunned that they bumped a guy that fast and I was sure to make note of his performance.

    Great scouting reports from Chris and nice of Joe to back that up.

    And thank you Kyle for doing the homework on his background. It’s as I suspected, they picked him up late because of TJ.

    Thanks again – with stuff like that and continued performances like last night, he moves into the Giants top 10 prospects with Chase Johnson, Phil Bickford and Kyle Crick (the hard throwing righty starters left after Mella’s departure).

    1. Hey, digging up the back stories on these guys is half the fun! You’re completely right; If Chase Johnson can elevate his status in one year as he has for San Jose, there’s a place in the upper tier of this system for a guy with Jordan Johnson’s stuff. Let’s hope he holds the stuff and keeps improving. Looking forward to watching it unfold for him this summer. Thanks for reading!

      1. Seems like another Brian Wilson type draftee, both had TJS prior to the draft (I think Wilson was right before, looks like Jordan had one year of college ball), and the Giants had liked what he had shown before (Barr always notes how they track prospects throughout high school and into college).

        And yeah, thanks for the back stories, I agree that it’s fun reading about their backgrounds like this.

        The Giants are never shy about pushing prospects who are performing well up the farm system, so we will see what happens. Seems like the Giants worked on his mechanics at the start of this season, then gave him some AZL, and so on. They love players who pick up stuff quickly, like Duffy, Beede, Bumgarner.

  2. Like the velocity,and plus change up.Still some room to get stronger.Like the low walk rate also.We’ll see how he finishes the season.

  3. Thank you for all the recognition, it has been a long road for him and us and we are so proud of our son and his hard work

    1. Hey, thanks for reading! Feel free to stop in here any time. It does sound like Jordan has had a heck of a road back to where he is now… I’m excited for his early success as a Giant, and moreso to follow his career going forward. Best wishes!

    2. Say, can you share with us what the Giants have been doing with him? We always wonder what the Giants do with prospects. Just as much as you feel safe sharing, but we are curious how the Giants have been handling him.

      For example, did they give him any instructions to work on during the off-season? What did the Giants do with him at the start of this season, he only pitched in AZL last month and a half maybe, were they working on his mechanics? Which pitches does he think are his best pitches? Can he rate each of his pitches in his repertoire? Thanks either way.

  4. Hey Cove, great work on this piece. Thanks. You already know how much I love digging into our noble prospect ranks and following their progress. Wow, Jordan Johnson.

    You might have seen I mentioned THIS year’s 27th rounder, catcher Bryan Case, made the jump from the AZL directly to San Jose. After only FOUR pro games. Although, that might just be as a fill-in while Jeff Arnold is on the DL, I dunno. Maybe like Adam Sonabend getting a quick cameo out of Extended, or something. But Jordan’s promotion seems legit. Love it.

    Our top-prospect rankings could really shift next year. So many with talent (depth!) and on the rise. Jordan Johnson, Chase Johnson, Santos, Mark Reyes, Suarez, Snelten, Montero, Coonrod… Knight, Jacob Smith, Christian Jones, Diaz, Gage… And that’s only *some* of the arms. Wow, huh? Awesome. Dream big!

  5. Great write-up. I like the last paragraph best. It’s kind of how I am with prospects. Intrigued. Hopeful. But always recognizing that this is a brutal ‘survivors’ sport and most will fail no matter how good they look initially.

    And speaking of prospects who are moving fast, the Giants converted Austin Slater to 2B this year. He was considered a tweener outfielder when drafted in 2014 as he was not fast enough for CF, not enough power for the corners. He played the OF in Short A and ROK as not terribly impressive.

    However, the Giants converted to the IF this year, sent him to SJ, where he tore up 2B. So went off to Richmond when Tomlinson got promoted and has been playing even better.

    For the year, he’s got a .969 FP and 4.92 RF over-all. In the promotion to AA he did not regress and his AA FP is a gaudy .978 and his RF is a gaudy 5.11 (I do expect regression, btw, those are really high numbers). So those are amazing numbers for a guy just converted to 2B, even if they are somewhat primitive stats and not as predictive or informative as we might like.

    He’s also hitting .303 at Richmond, which is extremely difficult. In fact the guy who blogs the Flying Squirrels pointed out how hard it is to hit over .280 at Richmond, where BAs go to die… And that even guys that turn out to be good hitters struggle there.

    Anyway, MLB has pushed him up to the #19 Giants prospect after his starting the season at #29. So we’ll see if my cautious optimism is rewarded.

  6. Yeah each WS game. It was my last chance to go to one of the postgame parties there next door, so after my last stories were filed I hurried over, managed to get one beer before last call, said hi to a few people and walked out and look for a taxi. While waiting for the taxi I sat my cool MLB.com 59FIFTY down and got in the taxi without it, souvenir for someone now. But won’t ever complain about getting to go to SF for a Fall Classic…lot of trips there lately and always make the most of it. Peace.

    Mark

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