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MLB Rookie Profile: Pierce Johnson, RHP, Chicago Cubs

After struggling with injuries as a starter, Cubs prospect Pierce Johnson has found his niche in the bullpen.

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs have promoted right-handed pitcher Pierce Johnson to the major league roster. He has been on the prospect radar for several years but this is his first trial in the Show. Here’s a quick review.

Pierce Johnson was drafted by the Cubs in the compensation phase of the first round in 2012 from Missouri State University. Initially a starting pitcher, he had notably effective seasons in 2013 (2.74 ERA, 124/43 K/BB in 118 innings in A-ball) and 2014 (2.55 ERA in 92 innings in Double-A with 91/54 K/BB) but was slowed by persistent nagging injuries.

He struggled badly in 2016 in Triple-A (6.14 ERA in 63 innings including a 7.75 ERA as a starter) until converting to the bullpen in the second half, but he did well enough in the bullpen to earn a spot on the 40-man roster last fall.

Johnson was rated as a Grade C prospect pre-season, unranked among the Chicago Cubs Top 20 prospects for 2017. In past seasons he’d rated as high as a Grade B+.

As a starter, Johnson showed a low-90s fastball with an inconsistent arsenal of secondary pitches including a curve, slider/cutter, and change-up. As noted he had problems staying healthy, suffering from knee, hamstring, lateral, and forearm strains and pains at various times.

Since moving to the pen last summer Johnson has been healthier and his stuff has picked up, his fastball up to 96 MPH and showing a sharper breaking ball. The stats have improved with the stuff, with a 3.22 ERA in 22 bullpen innings last year (35/13 K/BB) and a 3.21 ERA in 14 innings this year (21/11 K/BB).

His command remains inconsistent but the strikeout rates and better health are promising signs for a future as a short and middle reliever.

2015 Arizona Fall League video by Shaun Kernahan