James Johnson entered 2006 as the reigning Jim Palmer Organizational Pitcher of the Year. Nevertheless, he was still not as highly regarded as his underperforming teammate, Adam Loewen. Prospect mavens ended up looking smart on this one, as Loewen ascended to the major leagues and Johnson had a middling season in double-A Bowie.
DOB: 06/27/83 Height: 6-5 Weight: 210 B/T: R/R
James Johnson's Age 23 season:
James Johnson has an ideal pitcher‘s build that he has put to good use. The Orioles have made a concerted effort to protect their most valuable pitching assets, but they had no problem letting Johnson stretch to nearly a full major league workload. He gets good downward movement on his fastball, working it consistently in the 89-92 MPH range from a high ¾ delivery. He can occasionally dial it a notch or two above that, but the most important thing is that he demonstrated his durability by reaching the same velocity deep into games at the end of the season. He'll occasionally leave it up in the zone, which gets him into trouble with the long ball despite his groundball tendencies.
Johnson's out pitch is actually his spike curveball, which he uses to miss bats after setting hitters up with his fastball. The Orioles have made it a point to force Johnson to use his changeup more often, but it remains weak. He slows his arm speed considerably when throwing it, which telegraphs the pitch to opposing batters. It will most likely remain a below-average pitch in the long run, though he hasn‘t suffered any platoon problems as a consequence.
Despite an extremely average showing in double-A Bowie and a forgettable spot start in the big leagues, Johnson remains squarely on the Orioles' radar. Not surprisingly, the big righty's main asset is his remarkable durability. He'll most likely head to triple-A Norfolk, where the friendly confines should make for a prettier ERA. In the long run, Johnson projects as a valuable innings-eater at the back of a rotation, with the potential upside of league average production. That might not sound not sound very sexy, but players like this have plenty of value. Negative connotations aside, it wouldn't surprise me to see Johnson follow a career path similar to Rodrigo Lopez, albeit with a different arsenal and approach.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com