Randy Johnson Prospect Retro
Randy Johnson was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the second round of the 1985 draft, out of USC. He had a great arm, but it was an open question about whether his command would be good enough for him to succeed as a pro. The early returns were not good: a 5.93 ERA in eight starts in the New York-Penn League, with a horrible 21/24 K/BB in 27 innings. A similar pitcher (great arm, serious control problems, poor rookie ball performance from a college pitcher) would probably get a Grade C or C+ from me nowadays.
Johnson made progress in 1986, posting a 3.16 ERA and a 133/94 K/BB in 120 innings for West Palm Beach in the Florida State League. His control was still a problem, but his K/IP and H/IP marks were excellent. Given the progress he'd made, I would probably rate a similar pitcher as a Grade B prospect now, with a "higher potential" note if his command continued to improve.
Promoted to Double-A in 1987, Johnson went 11-8, 3.73 with a 163/128 K/BB in 140 innings for Jacksonville. Again, strong K/IP and H/IP marks, but poor control. A similar pitcher would likely get a B or B+ from me today. . .Johnson's potential was obviously immense, but there was still a lot of work to do refining his mechanics.
Up to Triple-A in 1988, Johnson posted a 3.26 ERA in 113 innings for Indianapolis, with a 111/72 K/BB. He went 3-0, 2.42 in four starts for the Expos in September. His control was still problematic, but he was continuing to make gradual progress. Clearly he had Grade A talent, but his command was still just Grade C. . .I'd rate him as a B+.
Johnson made six starts for the Expos in 1989 and was clobbered by control problems, going 0-4, 6.67 in 30 innings with a 26/26 K/BB. Traded to Seattle, he went into the Mariners rotation and went 7-9, 4.40 in 22 starts, with a 104/70 K/BB in 131 innings. I saw one of his late-season starts that year. His fastball was impressive, but he kept bouncing his breaking ball into the dirt and walking people.
Johnson struggled with his control 1990 through 1992, pitching very well at times, but being rather erratic. Something started to click for him in '93, as he found a more consistent touch on his mechanics, lowering his walk rate. At his peak, his command was actually pretty damn good, which is not something that anyone who saw him pitch in 1989 would really expect.
Johnson's career minor league K/BB ratio: 465/328 in 434 innings. 1.42 K/BB, 6.80 BB/9IP
Johnson's career major league K/BB ratio: 4544/1409 in 3799 innings. 3.22 K/BB, 3.34 BB/9IP.
His career has been a definite Best-Case-Scenario...his control since 1994 has been much, much better than anyone could anticipate based on his minor league performance.