He never seemed to be atop anyone’s top prospects list. He never blew up anyone’s radar gun.
But Steve Johnson just kept getting outs, impressing his coaches and just kept moving up the Minor League ladder.
Just a few weeks ago, the Dodgers promoted him to Double-A Chatanooga and just days after that, Johnson got traded to the Orioles with Josh Bell for George Sherrill.
Now the kid from St. Paul’s School, the Baltimore native whose dad played for the Orioles and now broadcasts for the team, was coming home.
De Jon Watson is the Dodgers assistant general manager in charge of player development. He watched Johnson make his way through the Dodgers farm system.
“He is one of those kids who just kept getting better. We shut him down at the end of 2007 with a tired shoulder. Then he came out in 2008 and had a great first-half in the Midwest League. We promoted him in the second-half to the California League and he wore down a bit late in the year.
“He went home and got stronger physically. Our main concern for this year was his fastball command, which has improved.”
Johnson began this season where he ended 2008, at Inland Empire in the hitter-happy California League. He went 8-4, 3.82 in 16 starts. In two starts at Double-A Chatanooga, he was 1-1, 1.69.
“He has a four-pitch mix with a fastball, curveball, changeup and tight slider,” Watson said. “The fastball command is the key for him and as that got better this year we felt he needed another challenge and moved him to Double-A.”
In his first two Baysox starts he is 0-1, 4.00.
His combined stats for all three teams this year shows a record of 9-6, 3.64 in 22 games, 20 starts. He has fanned 125 in 116 1/3 innings.
“The kid has a real feel for pitching and tends to make big pitches when he gets in trouble. He’s got great makeup and is a competitor and I think he’ll find a way to get to the big leagues.
“His fastball velocity (now from 88 to 92) has improved for three straight years. He’s a real pitcher, he has a game plan on how he wants to attack hitters. It’s just a matter of maturation for him. Playing now against better competition will help him. He’s a real student of the game.”
Entering this season, Johnson was rated as the Dodgers’ 15th best prospect. He was a 13th-round pick from 2005.
Watson described Johnson as a real solid young man who was a pleasure to be around.
“He’s one of those guys, he finds a way to win. He won’t light up the radar gun, but he’ll add and subtract with his fastball and breaking ball. He has an ability to make adjustments as the game goes on. His mental makeup and his perseverance will give him a chance to get there.”