Next up in our “Down on the Farm’ series, detailing Cubs prospects is Pierce Johnson, who ranks sixth on Baseball America‘s prospect ranking heading into 2014.
#6 Prospect- Pierce Johnson, Starting Pitcher
In 2012, the Cubs received a compensation pick (43rd overall) when the Brewers signed former Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez. With this pick, they selected right-hander, Pierce Johnson. Johnson was thus the second overall pick of the Theo Epstein era (behind Albert Almora).
Johnson was a standout Colorado high school pitcher that was drafted in the 15th round of the 2009 MLB draft by Tampa Bay. Rather than signing with the Rays, Johnson attended Missouri State University, where he posted mediocre numbers as a freshman and sophomore, but burst onto the scene as a junior in a big way. In his junior year, Johnson posted 119 strikeouts in just under 100 innings with a 2.57 ERA.
2013 was Johnson’s first full season in the Cubs’ system and it was a very solid season. Johnson pitched in 23 games, and started 21 of those. After posting a 3.10 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 69.2 innings at Kane County, the Cubs promoted Johnson to High-A Daytona where Johnson posted a 2.22 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. Johnson’s biggest issue at the moment appears to be his inability to keep batters off of the bases. WHIPs of 1.29 and 1.27 are certainly not poor, they are not stellar either (compare this to CJ Edwards’ WHIP, which was below one last year). WHIP is important because it is an indication of both how dominant a pitcher is (how many hits they allow) and how well they command their pitches (total walks). He allows nearly a hit per inning and a walk every three innings. Scouting reports from his draft claimed that his velocity was mid-low 90’s, which is consistent with the lack of dominance (allowing a hit per inning).
What does all of this mean? Essentially, Pierce Johnson is not ready for the majors. The right-hander is, however, a promising prospect. His low ERA and above average K/9 innings indicate that he has the potential to grow into a major league starter. Johnson’s lack of dominance at the low-A level mean that he will need to further develop his pitches and continue to work on his control. Pierce does not have as high of a ceiling as Edwards, but could develop into a #3 or possibly even a #2 pitcher in the Cub’s rotation.
I would expect Johnson to pitch in AA this season, and if he does well to possibly earn a few starts in AAA late in the season. With a strong season, Johnson could be spotted in Wrigley as soon as mid-to-late 2015.