As a reliever, you have specific roles, and how good you are is defined by how you take over that role. The Angels have a reliever who quietly takes his role, and takes care of it with very little problems. An unorthodox closer who doesn't strike out a lot of guys, but instead, has become a ground out pitcher. A hero at the University of West Florida, and a rising star in the Angels system, coming in at #22 in our countdown, right-handed closer, Kevin Johnson.
"Johnson's sinker will be the pitch that gets him to the Major Leagues."
It's true, Johnson has one heck of a sinker with astonishing break. The "anvil sinker" described to us by Arkansas Travelers broadcaster, Phil Elson, is Johnson's best pitch. It also helps that the pitch is coming from a three quarter arm slot dropping from his six-foot-four stature. Johnson's sinker sits in the mid 90's.
One slight problem with Johnson's sinker is that he can't control the break, which has lead to quite a few walks. Johnson's command of location is fine, but his command of break on the sinker isn't fine. It sounds silly, but it's the truth, and with one of the best sinkers, if not the best in the system, if he can learn to command the break of his sinker, he could have one of the best pitches alone in the system with his sinker.
Johnson throws a standard slider that has inconsistencies, but breaks well. Something that Johnson also needs to tailor the movement of the pitch so he can gain a better command of his pitches.
Something we have to note is that Johnson has a toe tap just prior to his stride to the plate. We made a call to a player that faced Johnson quite a few times, and when we asked about the toe tap he said:
"That (expletive) tap drives me nuts! I hate Johnson, or at least facing him. I'm sure he's a nice guy and all, but that (expletive) toe tap throws your timing off just enough, you end up hating the guy."
Johnson got better with time, as out of the draft, he struggled in Rookie and Independent ball in 2010, posting a combined 5.95 earned run average, and 1.785 WHIP.
2011 was a breakout season for Johnson, as he posted a combined 3.34 earned run average and 1.253 WHIP between Low-A and High-A. Johnson was tagged in the hitter friendly confines of the Cal League and High Desert/Lancaster, throwing six pitches that left the park, three from High Desert and Lancaster.
Johnson posted All-Star numbers in 2012 in Double-A. Despite strikeouts being at an all-time low, so were all his other numbers. A career low almost all statistics (excluding 13.1 innings in Low-A), Johnson reached career best in earned run average (2.37), WHIP (1.211), hits per nine (8.3), home runs per nine (0.7), and a tie in career best saves (16).
Johnson countered his 2012 success with another good season in 2013. With struggles in Triple-A at the end of 2013 (7.45 ERA, 1.966 WHIP), his season numbers went up. But, Double-A, he was named a midseason All-Star for good reason. A 2.49 earned run average, as well as 1.246 WHIP were outstanding, but when you look at game to game stats, he really excelled. Excluding his last save opportunity which was blown, he was flawless in save opportunities. Johnson posted a 1.10 earned run average and 0.795 WHIP while in save opportunities where he saved 13 of 15 in Double-A, with one of the blown saves leading to a win instead.
EXPECTED IN THE FUTURE:
It would be unique if Johnson stays a closer with his WHIP and groundball pitching style, but he obviously is a clutch pitcher. Johnson has spent the last two years with success in Double-A, so you have to expect he'll be in Triple-A out of Spring Training in 2014. Johnson will have to learn how to command his break, and how to work well with the most talented minor leaguers at Triple-A, so we don't expect him to be a closer right away, but with time, possibly near the end of the 2014 season with the Salt Lake Bees.
If Johnson has success, he could easily pitch for the Angels in 2014, but we think he needs some growth in Triple-A. A full season, and possibly some time in 2015 would be great for Johnson's future career, and we see him reaching the Major Leagues sometime in mid 2015 as a late inning reliever. One thing is for sure, we are very big fans of Kevin Johnson here at InsideTheHalos.com
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