- Full name James Robert Johnson
- Born 06/27/1983 in Johnson City, NY
- Profile Ht.: 6'6" / Wt.: 250 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School Union-Endicott
- Debut 07/29/2006
Drafted in the 5th round (143rd overall) by the Baltimore Orioles in 2001.
View Draft ReportJohnson was one of four or five prominent New York high school players entering the season, but he clearly separated himself from the pack. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander has a strong, well-proportioned body with sound mechanics. He was clocked up to 95 mph this spring and showed he can hold his velocity deep into games. He had one poor outing when he got unnerved with 50 scouts watching him. One start later, in front of an equal number of scouts, he tossed a no-hitter. A year ago, his fastball topped out at 89 mph. His secondary pitches--a curve and change--are less projectable, and his command of those pitches is suspect. Johnson is part of a deep Georgia Tech recruiting class that may rank as the best in the country.
Organization Prospect Rankings
Johnson continued his systematic progression through the system in 2007, moving up to Triple-A and again taking his turn like clockwork all season long. His numbers were about the same as the year before in Double-A, but he pitched a little better and was done in by a few disastrous starts. Johnson has three major league pitches, highlighted by an 88-92 mph fastball that maintains its velocity all season long. His curveball has become a reliable second pitch, and his changeup is average as well. The key is getting better command in the strike zone, because more advanced hitters have been able to lay off his chase pitches and wait for something in the fat part of the plate. He also has run up high pitch counts as he tries to pick his way through a batting order. Johnson has proven his durability and the quality of his pitches, and the Orioles are ready to see if he can pitch in the big leagues or if his command issues will keep him from fulfilling his potential. He'll compete for a major league bullpen job in spring training.
After establishing himself as a prospect in 2005, Johnson took a step back in 2006, though he did make his major league debut in an emergency start in July. Orioles officials thought he pitched better after his brief big league experience, despite getting touched for eight runs in three innings, because he got to see firsthand what it takes to get major leaguers out. Johnson has three pitches that can be average or better. His fastball ranges from 88-92 mph with average life, and he maintains the same velocity from Opening Day through the end of the season. He also throws a 12-to-6 curveball and a straight changeup. He's a big, strong, durable pitcher who doesn't back down from batters. To get big league hitters out, Johnson needs to improve his command in the strike zone and learn how to throw off the plate at times. His curveball command was inconsistent in 2006 because he tried to create too much break on the pitch. He'll compete for a spot in the Triple-A rotation in spring training.
The Orioles were very patient with Johnson, not exposing him to full-season ball until his fourth pro season and even then holding him back in extended spring as he recovered from mononucleosis. He broke out in 2005, winning Carolina League pitcher-of-the-year honors, leading the league in strikeouts and pitching in the Futures Game. While Johnson doesn't have one dominant pitch, he has three solid pitches with good command and a body that should allow him to be a workhorse. His fastball ranges from 90-93 mph, and his curveball is also a plus pitch. His changeup is a good third pitch. He's not afraid to work inside and led the CL with 19 hit batters. Because he can't overpower them with his stuff, Johnson needs to refine his command as he faces more advanced hitters. He also is learning to use his curveball and changeup more often. While Johnson has just burst onto the prospect scene, he should move more quickly from here. He'll open the season in Double-A and could be in the big leagues by 2007.
Johnson has been a project who has been brought along exceedingly slowly by the Orioles, and he was held back in extended spring to open 2004 because he had mononucleosis. He eventually joined a Delmarva staff that was home to many of the organization's most promising arms at one point or another during the season, but team officials said he had the best arm on the staff by the end of the year. He won three of his last four starts, going at least six innings in each outing and allowing a total of four earned runs in 26 innings. He throws his fastball at 90-91 mph now and could add velocity as he fills out his big frame and continues to get experience. His curveball might be his best pitch, and he's a strike-thrower who likes to go right after hitters. His changeup is a work in progress. Johnson will be a long-range project because of his size and lack of amateur experience, but he started showing flashes of brilliance last year. He'll open the season in the high Class A rotation.
Minor League Top Prospects
The Orioles have been patient with Johnson, sending him to Rookie ball for three straight seasons and having him open his fourth in extended spring training. They loosened the reins in 2005, and he responded by winning the CL strikeout title and pitcher-of-the-year award. Johnson's top pitch is a curveball that managers rated as the best breaking ball in the league. His curve is hard and sharp, with great depth and downward action. He also has a 91-93 mph fastball and a changeup that gives him a legitimate third option.