San Diego Padres: Pierce Johnson returns from Japan

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pierce Johnson #58 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the San Diego Padres in the top of the seventh inning at AT&T Park on September 26, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pierce Johnson #58 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the San Diego Padres in the top of the seventh inning at AT&T Park on September 26, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Pierce Johnson and the San Diego Padres have agreed to a two year deal with a club option for a third year.

This signing won’t make major headlines, won’t have major fanfare, for those that notice the signing today won’t remember it tomorrow.  Pierce Johnson signing a 2 year deal for $5M with the San Diego Padres will be lost in the hundreds of other transactions this winter.

That being said, it has a chance to have a huge impact.  Johnson has the potential to emerge as a key bullpen cog and if the Padres aren’t contending, a huge trade piece.

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Johnson was a former top prospect with the Cubs who never made it.  The former first-round pick caught on with the Giants before opting to go overseas to pitch in Japan.  Over there, Johnson was electric, pitching 58 innings with a 1.38 ERA with 91 strikeouts and just 13 walks for the Hanshin Tigers.  Johnson now has a chance to follow in the footsteps of guys like Miles Mikolas, Merril Kelly, and others who have gone overseas honed their craft and come back to shove in the MLB.

Japan’s top league offers players a guaranteed payday and the ability to work on their craft without fear of having their role reduced or be sent back to the minor leagues.  Johnson seems to have taken full advantage of the opportunity, honing in his elite stuff to put hitters away and limit walks.

Padres fans should be excited to see the stuff Johnson will bring to the mound at Petco Park.  When his fastball was tracked in MLB parks, it averaged 92.3 MPH which in today’s era of increased velocity, isn’t all that impressive.  Looking deeper though, you’ll see that Johnson’s fastball has an incredibly high spin rate.

In fact, his 2384 RPM rate is in the top 15% and comparable to relievers like Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles.  His fastball is good but his curveball rates even better by spin.  Out of all curveballs thrown over the past three seasons, Johnson ranks 11th at an elite 2964, similar to guys like Sonny Gray and Charlie Morton.

The stuff is clearly there, the improved command and results from Japan are there.  Now its a matter of finding a pitch mix to get MLB hitters out.  AJ Preller, Jayce Tingler, and the San Diego Padres analytics team will surely craft a plan for Johnson to succeed.

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Obviously each plan is tailored to individual hitters but you have to imagine they will seek to emulate a high usage breaking ball and fastballs at the top of the zone like the Astros have with Ryan Pressly and so many others.  File this signing away in your memory and remember this piece when Pierce Johnson makes an all-star team and ends up pitching high leverage innings in October.