2013 Cubs Prospects in Review: Pierce Johnson

pierce-johnsonPierce Johnson is a 6-3, 170 pound right-handed starting pitcher. He was born May 10, 1991 and was drafted out of Missouri State in the 1st round (43) of the 2012 Draft. After Picking Albert Almora the Cubs picked pitcher after pitcher in the first 10 rounds because the organization lacked impact starting pitchers.

Johnson entered the season as arguably the top pitching prospect in the organization. It largely depended on whether you view Arodys Vizcaino as a starter or reliever. This year, Pierce Johnson did nothing to disappoint. He was the 6th ranked Cubs prospect by Baseball America entering 2013 and thanks to an even stronger farm system, he's probably not moving up. He could move to 5th, but that's about it.

Johnson was drafted Faith Christian Academy High School in 2009 by the Rays in the 15th round, but opted for college instead. It paid off and he could conceivably see big league action in 2014 at the age of 23. A safer bet would be 2015, but depending on what the Cubs do this offseason, they may have an opening in the rotation at some point next year.

Performance

In 2012 Pierce Johnson threw only 11 innings between rookie league in Arizona and short-season Boise. He allowed 14 walks, walked 3 and struckout 14. It wasn't a great debut, but it wasn't bad either. Promoted to full season Kane County in 2013, Johnson began to shine in 13 starts and 69.2 innings.

He struckout 25% of the batters and walked 7.4%. His ERA 3.10 and his FIP was 2.98. He allowed 68 hits and 4 of them were home runs.

Johnson entered the season as probably the most polished among the Cubs starting pitching prospects. Dave and I thought he'd move much faster than the others, not including Arodys Vizcaino. He was probably a bit old for the Midwest League and was promoted to the more age appropriate Florida State League.

He continued to pitch very well. In 48.2 innings, he allowed 41 hits and only 1 home run. He struckout 25.5%, but his walk rate did climb to 10.7%. i don't expect he'll walk that many going forward. His ERA was an impressive 2.22 and his FIP was 2.95.

Scouting

There is plenty of information from the scouting experts so here's what some of them have to say.

Since 2001, Missouri State has had four pitchers selected in the first or sandwich round, and the Bears have sent seven arms to the big leagues. Their latest quality hurler is Johnson, who went 43rd overall last June and lasted that long only because he missed two starts with a forearm strain in the spring. His stuff looked as crisp as ever after he signed for $1,196,000. Johnson consistently works at 92-94 mph and reaches 96 with his lively fastball. His hammer curveball gives him two pitches that can get swings and misses. He also has a mid-80s cutter and a changeup that's coming along nicely. Johnson is more about power than finesse, and his control and command are no better than average at this point. He doesn't have a clean medical history, as he had forearm issues as a high school senior and college freshman and dislocated a kneecap while warming up in the summer Cape Cod League in 2011. The Cubs rave about his work ethic and character almost as much as they do about Albert Almora's. How thin is the system's pitching? Among Chicago prospects with a legitimate chance to pitch in the front half of a big league rotation, Johnson already is the second-most advanced despite having just 11 innings of pro experience. The Cubs will expedite his development, which could mean starting his first full pro season in high Class A. — Baseball America (pre-2013)

Strengths: Good size and wiry strength; fastball works in the 90-93 range, but he can get more when he needs it; good angle to pitch; good sinking action; can get ahead with the pitch; curveball is hard breaker; 81-84 mph, with late break, good shape, and depth; deep arsenal; will also show a cut fastball and a changeup; knows how to miss bats.

Weaknesses: Hasn’t been able to stay healthy; delivery has some effort; deliberate with secondary arsenal; changeup is inconsistent; doesn’t play as average offering yet.

Overall Future Potential: High 5/Low 6; no. 3 starter at the major-league level.

The Year Ahead: Johnson just needs to log innings and work to refine his arsenal through repetition and consistency. Because of mature pitch mix and control ability, should be able to make the jump to High-A, where his punchy low-90s heater and hard curve should continue to miss bats. He has a chance to be a good rotation horse. He just needs to stay healthy. — Jason Parts (pre-2013)

At the midseason recap, Jason Parks had him as a potential top 101 prospects for 2014. Based on his strong second half, I'd say there's a very good chance he joins Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Arismendy Alcantara in the top 101. Dan Vogelbach could also be there. That's crazy considering the system a couple years ago. Well done, Thoyer.

In a year where the college pitching crop didn't truly separate itself, Johnson helped himself with strong performances for most of the season. A forearm strain hurt his stock a bit, but he returned to throw well and was taken in the sandwich round. Johnson's three-pitch mix is highlighted by a fastball that can touch 94 mph and is very effective when he keeps it down in the zone. His hard curve can be an out pitch, and he gets more strikeouts with that than with his fastball. Johnson didn't use his changeup that frequently in college, and he does need to develop it to have success as a starting pitcher. He's tall, but not overly physical, he's trying to add weight to his frame. Competitive and aggressive on the mound, he throw strikes consistently. Assuming he stays healthy, Johnson shouldn't take too long to get to the big leagues, with a ceiling as a strong middle of the rotation starter. — mlb.com

Solid all-around, good fastball and strong curve, throws strikes, main worry is history of forearm troubles. Mid-rotation starter if his arm holds up. — John Sickels

I'll admit that I'm still somewhat surprised by the relatively low ceiling that these guys give Pierce Johnson. He throws pretty hard, has 3, maybe 4 pitches average or better already.

Outlook

Johnson could begin 2014 in AA Tennessee, but my money is on a return to High A Daytona. The Cubs have been very deliberate in their promotions of prospects and I expect they'll want more than 48.2 innings in High A. A strong spring could convince them AA is where he belongs.

If AA is where he goes at the start of the season, there's a small chance he could see big league action in 2014. I'd say it's more like May or June in 2015.

The arm injuries are concerning, but so far in his professional career he's made all his starts that I'm aware of and has not had any trouble. That doesn't mean he's good to go, but maybe it's something that he has gotten over.

2013 Cubs Prospect Reviews

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