Prospect Files: Rett Johnson

Much has been made about Rett Johnson being one of the top rookie candidates to win a bullpen spot with the Mariners with Spring. Based on his success at every stop in the minors, there's no reason to doubt that he can't pitch well at the big-league level. Learn more about the red-headed right-hander here at InsidethePark.com

Born; July 6, 1979
Place: Aynor, South Carolina
Ht: 6-2
Wt: 214
Bats: L
Throws: R
How Acquired: Selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 8th round (236th overall) of the 2000 Amateur Draft


When Everett Johnson was drafted out of Coastal Carolina University in June of 2000, not only wasn't he the M's top pick, he was the third pitcher taken by the club that year. Left-handers Sam Hays (4th Round) and Derrick Van Dusen (5th Round) were chosen ahead of Johnson, as were speedy outfielders Jamal Strong (6th Round) and Jamie Bubela (7th Round).

Hays has had injury problems and has yet to show any signs of the potential he was drafted for while Van Dusen was traded to the Texas Rangers in 2002 in exchange for a two-month rental of starter Ismael Valdes. Bubela struggled his way to Double-A and hasn't pushed anyone for a starting spot any higher than that. Strong has remained steady throughout his pro career and seems ready to get a shot at the big leagues but in hindsight surely doesn't warrant being drafted ahead of Rett Johnson.

This just goes to show that the draft is as much of a crap shoot as hitting a Rafael Soriano fastball in the eighth-inning of a close game at The Safe. Johnson took his 8th round selection and pinned it on the bulletin board for future use.

It seems Johnson's best attribute is that he just doesn't know how to fail. RJ has been successful at every stop he has made in the minors, including an eye-popping 10-start stint in Triple-A last season.

Johnson's pro career began with the Everett Aqua Sox in the summer of 2000 just after being chosen by the M's in the draft. He made a superb showing in the Northwest League by winning five of his nine decisions in 17 games. Johnson yielded just 51 hits in 69.2 innings in eight starts and nine relief appearances, while striking out 88 and walking only 21.

The Mariners had seen plenty. They swiftly sent him to Single-A Wisconsin to challenge him further in 2001. Johnson picked up in the Midwest League where he left off in the short-season Northwest League. The right-hander's fastball-slider combination continued to dazzle as he posted a 2.27 ERA in 16 starts for the Timber Rattlers.

Once again, the M's had seen what they wanted to see and promoted RJ to the California League with the San Bernardino Stampede. His numbers dipped a little bit in the ERA department in 12 starts, but all of the secondary numbers remained fantastic. Seventy strikeouts and 56 hits allowed in 66 innings pitched was sufficient for a second-year pro pitcher pitching for the first time in a hitter's league at the Advanced-A level. The 33 walks allowed stood out as the only area of concern.

Johnson would begin the 2002 season back in San Bernardino and from the start it was clear he had improved his command. RJ's stay lasted just seven starts this time, as he allowed just 11 walks in 37 innings. The 3-1 record and 3.65 ERA weren't bad either and Double-A was calling his name at the age of 23.

While reverting back to his 2001 form with his control, Johnson was still able to win 10 of his 21 starts, losing only four. Logging 117 innings at San Antonio, the M's were pleased with his overall performance despite his 53 walks. He struck out 104, allowed just 107 hits and gave up just five homeruns in a hitter's paradise in the Texas League. These numbers showed the mound presence, maturity, and pitching prowess of a top prospect. That is exactly what Johnson was becoming in assisting the Missions to the Texas League title, sporting a 3.62 ERA for the champs.

Following recovery from an injury late in the summer of 2002, Johnson returned to Double-A San Antonio and led a star-studded staff that included fellow prospects Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley. The 6-foot-2, 214-pounder was as sharp as ever, posting a 3.04 ERA in 14 starts that spanned 83 innings. Johnson allowed just 74 hits and 21 walks while whiffing 63 batters. The 24-year-old also posted his first professional complete-game shutout on his way to a 6-2 record.

The Mariners didn't waste any time and told Rett to pack up and catch a flight to Tacoma, the M's Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. His work at Double-A was done, and it was time for Johnson to conquer yet another hitters' league.

Did someone say conquer? I think Johnson said it with his fastball, slider, and occasional change-up during the ten starts he made for Tacoma in the second half of the 2003 campaign. He went 5-2 with a stingy 2.15 ERA that only jumped over two when he suffered some soreness in his throwing shoulder and scuffled his way through his last few starts.

RJ became one of the M's top pitching prospects and none were pitching better than he in his time with the Rainiers. Seventy-one innings pitched with Tacoma produced 49 strikeouts, 18 walks, 63 hits and just two homeruns. Among his five victories was his second complete-game shutout of the season.

Heading in to the 2004 season Johnson has done everything the Mariners could have asked of him. At no point did he struggle and appear overmatched, nor did he take any significant steps backwards in his progress. RJ would have a shot at the starting rotation in 25 other organizations, and could even make the M's coming out of the bullpen this spring. If Freddy Garcia leaves via trade during the season, Johnson could be the first in line to replace him. At worst, the right-hander will get his fair shake in 2005 when Garcia is expected to leave via free agency.

Look for Rett to start the year in Triple-A Tacoma, barring a bullpen job with the M's.


TOOLS Grading Scale

Fastball: 60 Johnson's heater is consistently into the low 90s and it sets up his slider very well. Improved command and more work with veteran catcher Pat Borders in Tacoma will only make this pitch better and allow RJ to throw it with even more confidence.

Slider: 60+ Armed with perhaps the second-best slider in the organization (only Nageotte's un-Godly hammer is better), Johnson attacks hitters with the heater and punches them out with the slider. A third better-than-average pitch would make RJ very tough.

Change-Up: 40+ A year or so ago, the change-up wasn't such a good option for RJ. Now it's vital. Left-handers get to the righty slider a bit and without an overpowering fastball that can repeatedly miss a lot of bats, a change can be the equalizer. RJ's is still a work in progress.

Mound Presence: 70+ This is one area where RJ need not worry about. He knows what he is doing on the hill, and knows how to work with his catcher. This alone could produce a great Triple-A season for Johnson.

Intangibles: 70 Great work ethic, good attitude, team oriented leadership-by-example, and consistent effort make RJ a manager's delight. Ask him to close and he will. Ask him to setup and he will. Ask him to catch and before you can tell him you were kidding he would probably already have the gear on.

MLB ETA: 2004

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