Probably the biggest surprise of the latter half of the 2015 season was a homegrown kid from Elk Grove, Calif. bursting onto the prospect scene with a 10-strikeout performance in the team's second to last game of the regular season. Jordan Johnson's San Jose Giants lost the game, but it had become clear in Johnson's 14 starts in 2015, a season that was delayed from the start due to injuries, that the right-hander's future in the organization would more than expected out of a 23rd round pick.
Johnson's numbers have only improved in the new year, where he is part of an impressive rotation back in San Jose. While working on throwing a new pitch, Johnson owns a 3.09 ERA and 0.914 WHIP, as well as a .198 opponent batting average, through his first six starts. He's currently ranked No. 16 in Giant Potential's Top-30 Prospect List. He sat down with Giant Potential to talk about being selected by a local team, bouncing back from early injury problems, and his progress grooving a new pitch.
GP: Drafted out of Franklin High School in Elk Grove, Calif., you probably had a 50/50 shot at being a Giants or an A’s fan growing up.
"Honestly, I just grew up watching baseball. I didn’t have a favorite team. I just loved the sport. It was fun to watch baseball."
GP: Despite that, was it still exciting to know you got drafted by a team so close to where you grew up?
"A lot of my friends are Giants fans so they were real happy about it, which obviously made me happy. And [two] of their organizations are on the west coast so that’s always a good thing because my family can come out and watch."
GP: How often are your family and friends able to come out and see you?
"They go to a lot of Stockton [Ports] games because it’s only 40 minutes away. They come out every time I start as long as it isn’t in Lake Elsinore or any other of the southern teams."
GP: You had limited playing time in 2014, 2015. Were there injuries that contributed to that?
"The year I was drafted I had an elbow injury where I strained my UCL so they just shut me down. Then I rehabbed all winter and then I came back next season healthy and ready to go but had a minor tear in my [latissimus dorsi] so they shut me down again. I built back up and started to get going. I’ve been healthy since."
GP: Excited for a full season now?
"Yeah. I’ve been doing all the treatments and doing everything I can to stay healthy and I feel good so far. Hopefully it keeps working."
GP: Tell me about your pitch repertoire.
"I throw a four-seam fastball, a changeup, a curveball, and I’m also working on a two-seam fastball. My changeup is a circle-changeup."
GP: Why are you moving towards throwing the two-seam? How’s the progress so far?
"I just wanted to add another pitch. Most starters have four or five pitches and I have three that I’m comfortable with right now so I’m just working on another one so I can give hitters something else to look at. It’s going well so far. I throw it here and there. When I throw it, sometimes it’s where I want it and sometimes it’s not. But I can see it being a better pitch for me in the future. I throw a lot of fastballs. So it’s just another one I can add to my arsenal."
GP: What are your main thoughts and focus over the next few starts?
"The main thing for this season was to stay ahead early in counts and try to get deeper into games with a lower pitch count. I can’t really control when they swing, but I can do my part to get ahead in counts and throw strikes."
GP: What’s your relationship like with the other starting pitchers in San Jose?
"All six of us talk. We tell each other what we see and what we think. Righties are going to have more in common than with the lefties. So I talk with [Sam] Coonrod and [Jason] Forjet a lot. Pitch selection is a big thing to, but mostly I talk to Coonrod and Forjet about what they saw against righties."
GP: How have you noticed the skill level of hitters improve as you’ve moved now into Class-A Advanced?
"They definitely have a lot better approaches here. In rookie ball, sometimes you could tell that they were guessing. You can tell that the ones up here are advanced college hitters. So they’re definitely tough players."
GP: Who’s been the toughest at-bat you’ve had so far this year?
"Rudy Flores from Visalia has two home runs of me, so I guess that would have to be my toughest hitter. I go at-bat to at-bat and just focus on that, and not who it is. Just righty-righty or righty-lefty situations."
GP: Did Flores get good pitches off you or did he hit mistakes?
"They were both mistakes. I expect people to hit mistakes, especially as you get up in the organization. You’re going to notice less people missing mistakes."
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