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PuRP #26: Andrew Johnston

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Andrew Johnston

Because of that delivery, Johnston's pitches will break down and across the hands of right-handed batters and come from out of reach of those that bat from the left.

Position, 2006 Team: RHP, Asheville/Waikiki (milb profile page)

HT: 6'5"WT: 205 lbs.

D.O.B.4/20/1984

2005 Stats (Casper): 30 GM, 1-2, 18 SV, 1.06 ERA, 34 IP, 22 H, 10 R, 4 ER, 0 HR, 7 BB, 24 K, 4.06 GO/AO, .171 BAA

2006 Stats (Asheville) 45 GM, 0-3, 25 SV,  2.84 ERA, 44.1 IP, 43 H, 21 R, 14 ER, 5 HR, 5 BB, 23 K, 3.15 GO/AO, .246 BAA

Bio: Andrew was initially drafted in the 26th round in 2003 out of high school by the Cleveland Indians, after putting up a 4-0 record and 0.87 ERA as his team's closer. A natural athlete, he also played shortstop, but his size would force him to move off that position in pro ball and he wouldn't have the bat to play anywhere else. A draft and follow selection, Johnston opted to enter nearby Jefferson City Junior College where he continued to show promise and was recruited to pitch in relief at Missouri after his sophomore season. Johnston's junior season Mizzou was solid enough to draw the attention of Rockies scouts, who saw potential in the big right-hander's sinking fastball as a pitch that could be effective at altitude.

Johnston broke into the professional ranks with a dominating performance in Casper, tying the Pioneer League mark for saves in a season with 18, while putting up a stellar 1.06 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. Johnston did it relying almost entirely on his 93 mph sinker that he delivers from a 3/4 arm slot. At Casper, he also started to refine a slider and changeup but both those secondary pitches are very raw, and the breaking ball may need to eventually be scrapped and started from scratch. This past season brought personal tragedy to Andrew, as his mother succumbed to a long fight with cancer early in the summer. For that reason, do not put much stock in his early performance in Asheville, which seems out of line with the rest of his career to date. After he returned to the Tourists from his bereavement, he showed some creakiness in July but a dominating August and even more impressive Hawaiian winter have put him back on the map.

The things that always stand out when looking at Johnston's stats are the extreme GB/FB Ratio, generally better than 2:1 (for comparison, Aaron Cook's 2006 GB % was 57.8%, Johnston's was 67.6%) and the remarkably low walk totals. In Asheville, Andrew's 1.02 BB/9IP ratio was the lowest on his team, and of the pitchers that threw more than 40 innings, second place was Alan Johnson's 2.25. Losing that extra baserunner helps keep the ERA low as well. Johnston's reliance on forcing weak contact with his sinker could be problematic at higher levels, as more advanced batters should be able to sit on it and make a little better contact with the pitch, hence the Rockies trying to get him a second or third pitch to throw into the mix and keep the opposition off balance. Still, as long as he's got a decent infield defense behind him, Andrew should be at least somewhat successful.

Projection, MLB ETA: Johnston really needs to develop a consistent change and at least a passable breaking ball to be a truly dominant MLB closer, until then his projection tops out as a middle reliever. The good news is that his pinpoint control and ability to throw that heavy sinker so hard, so consistently from a deceptive arm-slot make him a more certain prospect than most minor league relievers and his chances of making some MLB roster are quite high barring injury. I'm going to stick with a late 2008 call-up as his projected debut, that should give Johnston plenty of time to develop a secondary pitch or two.

Other Links:

Andrew's Pitching Splits at MinorLeagueSplits.com

Andrew's Baseball Cube page

"Johnston Persevering Through Tough Times" by Jack Etkins at the Rocky Mountain News