- Full name Michael Charles Johnston
- Born 03/30/1979 in Philadelphia, PA
- Profile Ht.: 6'3" / Wt.: 220 / Bats: L / Throws: L
- School Garrett College
- Debut 04/07/2004
- Drafted in the 20th round (598th overall) by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1998.
Organization Prospect Rankings
Johnston generated national headlines in 2004 when he made the Pirates out of spring training, making the jump from Double-A and becoming only the second player in major league history to publicly admit he has Tourette's Syndrome. The condition includes visible nervous tics and forced him to drop out of high school in Philadelphia. Johnston made nine straight scoreless appearances to begin his big league career, but he has experienced elbow problems on and off the last two seasons. Johnston's strength is that he's one of the hardest- throwing lefthanders around. His fastball routinely reaches 95 mph and tops out at 98. He also relishes pitching inside and isn't afraid to, as he says, "buzz the tower." Johnston's slider can be devastating but he has problems staying consistent with the pitch and it often becomes slurvy. He also hasn't maintained his conditioning since reaching the majors and must be diligent in watching his weight. Johnston isn't exactly a kid, but he still has a high ceiling because of his power arm. If he gains command of his slider, he could develop into one of the top lefthanded relievers in the game.
Johnston, along with Jim Eisenreich, are the only known players with Tourette's Syndrome to reach the major leagues. Johnston made the Pirates out of spring training last season after six years in the minor leagues. He did not allow a run in his first nine appearances, but then struggled and did not pitch in the majors after June 21 because of a sore elbow. Johnston went on an injury rehabilitation assignment to Triple-A on July 15 and spent the rest of the season there. He can be overpowering when healthy, with a fastball that tops out at 96 mph and routinely sits at 93-94. Johnston also has a hard, slurvy breaking ball that can be particularly tough on lefthanded hitters. He tends to be too slow in his delivery, which causes him to lose velocity and movement on his pitches. Johnston also needs to tighten up his breaking ball. He will compete for a major league bullpen job in spring training, and at worst begin the season at Triple-A. Johnston proved he can get major league hitters out last season, and now he needs to prove he can do it on a consistent basis.
Johnston was raised in a tough section of Philadelphia and dropped out of high school because of problems related to Tourette Syndrome. He continued playing summer ball and went on to pitch in junior college, where the Pirates spotted him. Johnston is often overpowering, throwing a 96-mph fastball along with an outstanding slider that has good late bite and is his out pitch. He's aggressive on the mound and goes right after hitters with his plus stuff. Johnston is prone to bouts of wildness but improved his command last season after being made a full-time reliever. He can be emotional at times and broke his hand in 2002 when he punched the dugout wall following a poor start in high Class A. Johnston took a major step forward in 2003 and is now Pittsburgh's best relief prospect. He could see the major leagues at some point this season. Johnston has the makings of a top-flight setup man and perhaps even a rare lefthanded closer.