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Prospect Retro: Howard Johnson

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Howard Johnson Prospect Retro

You young whippersnappers likely don't remember him, but HoJo was a very interesting, if frustrating, player to watch.

He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1st round of the January 1979 secondary draft for previously drafted players., out of St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida. He signed and was sent to Lakeland in the Florida State League, where he hit .235/.340/.300 with 18 steals in 132 games. He was fast and drew 69 walks, but didn't show much power. Still, it was his pro debut at age 18 in advanced A-ball. He was toolsy and had offensive potential; Grade C+ probably.

Returned to Lakeland in 1980, Johnson hit .285/.385/.411 with 10 homers, 31 steals, and 73 walks. His power was growing, he drew walks and stole bases. . .he'd be a stathead favorite nowadays. His defense was erratic, but he was starting to get attention as an intriguing prospect due to his athleticism and broad skill base. I'd raise him to Grade B.

Moved up to Double-A in 1981, he hit .266/.370/.488 with 22 homers, 19 steals, and 75 walks for Birmingham in the Southern League. The skill growth was definitely here to go with his tools: Grade B+ and a top prospect.

Promoted to Triple-A in 1982, he hit .317/.400/.571 with 23 homers and 35 steals in 98 games, then hit .316/.384/.426 in 54 games for the Tigers. Power/speed/walks, plus a stronger batting average. . .hard to beat that at age 21. He had the arm strength and range for third base but remained erratic.

Injuries limited him to just 30 games in 1983, but he came back in 1984 and hit .248/.324/.394 for the Tigers. Disappointed, he was shipped to the Mets where he had a mediocre '85 season, then started to show more power in '86. His big step forward took place in 1987 when he hit 36 homers, stole 32 bases and drew 83 walks.

Johnson never hit for much of a batting average: his high was .287 and his career average was .249. But he hit for power, drew walks, stole bases, posted strong secondary averages, and was fun to watch, if frustrating when he'd make a defensive mistake. His bat slowed down at age 31 and he was finished as an effective player very rapidly.

Career Major League numbers: .249/.340/.446, 228 homers, 231 steals in 4940 at-bats, OPS +118, Secondary Average .369.
Career Minor League numbers: .273/.375/.436, 58 homers, 103 steals in 1793 at-bats.