Rehab now over, O's look to see what they have in prospect RHP Seth Johnson

Right-hander Seth Johnson was a promising young pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays farm system. In college he converted from shortstop to the mound at Campbell University and then Tampa Bay drafted him 40th overall in the 2019 season.

He had a breakout 2021 season on the Rays' watch at Low-A ball, pitching to an ERA of 2.88 over 23 games but his next season was cut short by an elbow issue and Tommy John surgery was going to be needed.

That was a major setback but not all the big news he was going to have to deal with. Set for surgery that would happen on Aug. 3, 2022, he flew into Arlington, Tex. two days earlier ahead of the procedure and then his phone rang. He was traded to the Orioles in a three-team deal that sent Trey Mancini to Houston.

Time to get a new and improved elbow and a new team.  

“The day I got traded I was in Arlington for the surgery, and I was planning on going to the Rangers game that night and they were playing the Orioles. So, I got to see the team I was traded to about three hours after the trade,” Johnson recalled with a laugh in Sarasota, Fla. recently.

Ranked as the Rays No. 12 prospect at the time of the deal, he is now the O’s No. 10 prospect per Baseball America and No. 11 per

He could top out at 98 mph before the procedure and feels his velocity is about all the way back. He averaged 95 mph in 10 1/3 innings late year when he got back into games with affiliates, ending his year with an outing with Double-A Bowie, where he could start this season.

"Everything is pretty much the same. I was in a pretty good spot before I got hurt. I was able to tweak some things and work on some delivery things during rehab and I feel like I'm pretty close to where I was," said Johnson, 25. 

Beyond his pitching, he feels like a different person after going through the rehab process.

“I feel a bit more mature. I kind of got to zoom out on like my whole baseball career and everything I’ve gone through during that rehab. And I feel like I’m more mature afterwards,” he said.

A few months after the trade on Nov. 15, 2022, the Orioles added Johnson to their 40-man roster, the same day pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Drew Rom were also added. So, the team used one of his three option years in 2023.

Baseball America gives Johnson a 60 grade for his fastball and 65 for his slider while rating his curve and change at 45.

As a prospect rated in his club's top 15, expectations can be high for a player.

“I don’t really pay attention to that stuff,” said Johnson. “Those rankings - they all are just opinions. You don’t get paid to be a top prospect, you get paid to produce on the field. I try not to pay too much mind to that stuff.”

Johnson said it was a real boost to his rehab last year in Florida to spend time with a group of pitchers going through similar things. Pitchers like John Means, Zack Peek, Brandon Young, Kyle Brnovich and Trey McGough.

And then it was a big step for him when he pitched in a game on Aug. 19 in the Florida Complex League, later adding games with Low-A Delmarva, High-A Aberdeen and Bowie.

“It was nice. I worked really hard to get back into a game before the end of the season. It was great to get the game experience and get back into a routine of going to the field, hanging out with the guys and getting your work in,” he said, adding he felt no trepidation when taking the mound.

“The rehab staff here did a great job with me. You know instilling that confidence that when I left here, I was ready to go. I didn’t have any hesitations or anything,” he added.

On Feb. 26, Johnson’s comeback took another big step. He faced the Atlanta Braves in a spring training game, getting the start in North Port.

“That was my first big league spring training game and I got to face (Ronald) Acuna (Jr.), the first guy. It was surreal. It was just surreal is the only way to describe it.”

He got the 2023 National League MVP on a pop out on the first pitch and went to throw two scoreless innings.

It was the latest indication that his rehab was over, and he was back all the way. Now he will get his work in this month and wait to find out where he will start the 2024 minor league season.

He said he has learned that the Orioles pitching program on the farm is quite solid.

“I love how committed they are (the coaches and staff) to getting us better. They care just as much as we do about our careers, and I think that is a really important thing in pro baseball. We have people eager to help you get better in any way,” Johnson said.



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