Justin K. Aller
Not that there's been enough hype for Pirates minor-leaguer Kris Johnson to even be worth worrying about, but Tom Singer writes about him here, and it's a slow day.
Even some hardcore fans might not remember who Kris Johnson is, so here's the recap. He's 28 and was a first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2006. He never did much in six years in the Boston system, but kept getting promoted anyway. The Pirates signed him as a minor-league free agent after the 2011 season, and he spent 2012 pitching with Altoona and Indianapolis.
He's entered the discussion now because he's posted good numbers in winter ball in the Dominican. Here's Singer:
Johnson could throw his hat into the ring of rotation candidates and compete with Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Oliver, Mazzaro and others. Or he could emerge as a viable candidate to provide a second lefty arm in the bullpen, next to Tony Watson.
In the Dominican, Johnson has continued his dramatic rise from obscurity. Or, his return to faded stature. It's a matter of how one chooses to look at it -- but, either way, he'll be in camp on a non-roster basis to take advantage of the opportunity offered by holes in the Pirates' staff.
You should never say never, but I would be beyond shocked if Johnson even entered the fringes of the Pirates' rotation picture. If the Bucs had considered him a rotation candidate last year, they wouldn't have had him pitching at Altoona, down a level from where he pitched in 2010 and 2011. And not much has changed since then -- he didn't strike anyone out in Altoona or Indianapolis, and his control issues mostly persisted. Those minor-league numbers are probably a lot more predictive than his numbers in the Dominican, which come in a small sample size (and which look a lot more impressive than they really should be, thanks to a shiny 0.67 ERA).
If Johnson were to pitch for the Bucs as a LOOGY at some point, that would be a little less surprising, simply because lefties with ground ball tendencies don't grow on trees. Mostly, though, Johnson is simply a garden-variety minor-leaguer, and I think it would take a hefty number of injuries before the Pirates considered using him at the big-league level.