In his own words, Ivan Johnson is “just a normal 23-year-old guy with some tools… who is going to take it as far as I can go.” It’s a humble self-assessment. Currently the No. 14 prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system, the switch-hitting middle infielder is coming off a strong season split between Low-A Daytona and High-A Dayton. A fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft out of Chipola College, Johnson put up an identical 125 wRC+ at both levels.
The Atlanta native’s initial collegiate experience after matriculating from Kennesaw Mountain High School was brief. Originally at the University of Georgia, Johnson transferred to Chipola for his sophomore year. Talent-level wasn’t a major factor.
“It was circumstantial more than anything,” explained Johnson, who is playing with the Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Saguaros. “Our shortstop [Cam Shepherd] was coming off a Freshman All-America year, so I would have had to move over to second where we had an older guy [LJ Talley] who was more used to what the SEC was all about. So I wouldn’t say I wasn’t ready. I think I kind of showed that in my JUCO year.”
Johnson put up a 1.078 OPS at Chipola, impressing scouts not only with his production and plus athleticism, but also with the fact that he swings from both sides. That he does so is product of advice he received at young age. Told by “some older baseball minds” that it would advantageous once he began facing more-mature pitchers, the natural right-handed hitter decided “to just run with it.”
With the caveat that his splits aren’t dissimilar, Johnson allowed that it’s more challenging to hit from the right side given the lesser number of reps a hitter gets against left-handed pitchers. Opining that a majority of switch-hitters would say the same thing, Johnson is different from each side.
“I think lefty has a little more juice, especially the home runs,” said Johnson. “Righty is more something I can count on to get me a knock. I really don’t know why, but it’s always been that way for me. For whatever reason, lefty just seems to get out of the ballpark a little more.”
His regular-season numbers suggest as much — just two of Johnson’s 10 dingers came with him swinging right-handed — but he’s by no means juice-free swinging from that side of the plate. On Friday, he propelled a pitch 416 feet for his fifth Arizona Fall League round-tripper, his second against southpaw slants.
As for his positional future, Johnson shared that second base is his “newest frontier.” After exclusively playing shortstop in Low-A, he moved to second base after moving up to Dayton. Matt McLain was a big reason why. Drafted 17th-overall by the Reds this year out of UCLA, McLain manned short with the Dragons, bumping Johnson to the other side of the bag.
“I had no problem with it,” said the young infielder, whose given name is Vincent Ivan Johnson. “He’s a stud, and as long as I get to be in the lineup and swing it, I’m all happy.”
That Johnson goes by Ivan is pretty straightforward. His father is Vincent, and his parents have called him by his middle name since the day he was born. Ivan comes from his Trinidad-born mother’s side of the family.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Boston’s running game was nothing to write home about this year. Alex Cora’s club stole just 40 bases — the team’s lowest full-season total in nearly four decades — and on 21 occasions the attempted thievery resulted in an out. Moreover, Red Sox runners attempting to take an extra base on balls in play were thrown out 54 times — the third-highest total in MLB — often because of poor decision-making. It came as little surprise when Tom Goodwin, the coach in charge of base running and outfield defense (yet another issue) was relieved of his duties upon the conclusion of the campaign.
Cora clearly expected better. Prior to the start of the season, the Boston manager said that he wants the team to “play faster,” adding that having more runners go from first to third would be one of the goals. Morphing into the 1980s St. Louis Cardinals was never going to be an objective — nor would it have been a realistic possibility — but traversing an extra 90 feet with more regularity was very much in the plans.
Said plans having largely fallen flat, I posed a question to Cora in his postseason media session: How satisfied was he with the team’s base running?
“It depends on the personnel,” responded Cora. “There were certain days where we were very athletic, and others where we depended on the home-run ball. Over 162 games, you adjust for what you have that day. If somebody is hurt, if somebody is just playing [at] 80%, you have to make decisions.
“Do we have to be better? Yeah. I do believe we have to be better running-wise. As a group, they understand that… you have to pay attention to details. You have to make sure you take advantage of certain situations. Overall, we were okay. We were okay. It’s something we’re going to address in the offseason, individually, with a few things they have to do physically. As a coaching staff, we have to recognize a few things and keep getting better.”
On Friday, the Red Sox claimed Tim Locastro off waivers. The 29-year-old outfielder has a .662 OPS in 503 big-league plate appearances, but also 31 steals in 34 attempts. Moreover, he’s tied with Trea Turner atop Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed Leaderboard at 30.7 ft/sec. Bringing Locastro aboard is a step in the right direction.
The answer can be found below.
NPB’s Hiroshima Carp have signed Drew Anderson, who spent this past season with the Texas Rangers, and Ryan McBroom, who was with the Kansas City Royals. In related news, the Nippon-Ham Fighters have agreed to a deal with Renato Núñez, whom the Detroit Tigers released in late August.
The KBO’s Lotte Giants have hired former New York Mets assistant pitching coach Ricky Meinhold as their Director of Pitching. (per Jeeho Yoo.) In 2010, Meinhold played for the independent league’s Gateway Grizzlies, as did Donnie Ecker, whom the Texas Rangers hired earlier this week as their bench coach and offensive coordinator. Ecker had been serving as the hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants.
The Kansas City Royals announced that first base coach Rusty Kuntz will be transitioning into a front office role. The 66-year-old former big-league outfielder will serve as Special Assistant to the President and GM/Quality Control.
The Philadelphia Phillies have hired Anthony Contreras as their new Triple-A manager. The 38-year-old former minor-league infielder has been managing in the San Diego Padres system since 2014.
Tim Thompson, a catcher for three teams in the 1950s, died late last month at age 97. The native of Coalport, Pennsylvania played primarily with the Kansas City Athletics, who traded Thompson to the Detroit Tigers as part of a 13-player deal in November 1957.
Early registration is open for the 2022 SABR Analytics Conference, which will take place on March 18-22. Current plans are for the conference to be held virtually, although a hybrid event — online plus in-person presentations — may take place if conditions allow. More information can be found here.
The answer to the quiz is Randy Johnson, who had 8-plus bWAR with the Arizona Diamondbacks each year from 1999-2002. (This week’s quiz courtesy of Jeremy Frank and Jim Passon Jr.’s Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For.)
What is the most runs a pitcher has allowed in a World Series complete-game win? The answer is six, and according to Stathead’s Adam Darowski, it’s happened twice.
In Game 3 of the 1909 World Series, Nick Maddox went the distance while allowing 11 hits, two walks, and six runs in an 8-6 Pittsburgh Pirates win over the Detroit Tigers. In Game 1 of the 1932 World Series, Red Ruffing allowed 10 hits, six walks, and six runs in a 12-6 win over the Chicago Cubs.
Also of note: Christy Mathewson went all 11 innings for the New York Giants in Game 2 of the 1912 World Series. The contest against the Boston Red Sox finished in a 6-6 tie.
The first game of this year’s NPB postseason was played on Saturday, with the Chiba Lotte Marines beating the Rakuten Golden Eagles 5-4 in the opener of their best-of-three series. Adeiny Hechavarría hit a key home run for the Marines, while rookie phenom Roki Sasaki fanned 10 Rakuten batters. Per Tokyo-based scribe Jim Allen, the newly-turned-20-year-old Sasaki topped out at 98.8 mph.
Kaima Taira finished the season with a 0.90 ERA in 62 relief outings comprising 60 innings with NPB’s Seibu Lions. The 21-year-old right-hander allowed 36 hits and had 70 strikeouts.
Jung-hoo Lee slashed .360/.438/.522 with the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes. The 22-year-old outfielder had seven home runs and fanned just 37 times in 544 plate appearances. He had a 162 wRC+.
Baek-ho Kang slashed .346/.448/.519 with the KT Wiz. The 21-year-old outfielder had 16 home runs and fanned 86 times in 631 plate appearances. He had a 163 wRC+.
Shin-Soo Choo reportedly “will decide whether to play next season within a month.” The 39-year-old SSG Landers outfielder had an .858 OPS in his first KBO season.
Colt Keith had an impressive first professional season in 2021, putting up a .789 OPS between three levels in the Detroit Tigers system. Who among the pitchers he faced this summer impressed him the most? I asked the 20-year-old infielder that question just before the close of the campaign.
“It would be a pitcher in Low-A, who is in High-A now,” Keith told me. “His name is Beck Way, and he’s a stud. He’s with the Yankees. When he faced us, he was up to 97 [mph] with a dirty slider and a dirty changeup. I think I ended up getting two hits off of him, but he was the nastiest I’ve seen all year.”
A 22-year-old right-hander whom the Yankees took in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, Way finished the season with a 3.98 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 63-and-a-third innings. The Board currently ranks him as New York’s No. 21 prospect.
ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE STANDOUTS
Nelson Velazquez (Mesa Solar Sox) leads all AFL hitters with a 1.238 OPS. A 22-year-old outfielder in the Chicago Cubs system, Velazquez is coming off a season where he slashed .270/.333/.493 with 20 home runs between High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee.
Canaan Smith-Njigba is slashing .283/.411/.413 with the AFL’s Peoria Javelinas. The 22-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect had a .760 OPS this year between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.
Logan O’Hoppe is slashing .321/.472/.509 with the Javellinas. The 21-year-old Philadelphia Phillies catching prospect had a .789 OPS this year between three levels, with his final action coming at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Owen White is 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA in four starts comprising 19-and-a-third innings with the Surprise Saguaros. The 22-year-old Texas Rangers prospect had a 3.24 ERA this year in 33-and-a-third innings with the Low-A Down East Wood Ducks.
I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week, and results weren’t nearly as close as I expected them to be. Ordonez won in landslide, garnering 84.8% of the vote, while Hrbek received a paltry 15.2%.
Here are some of their career numbers:
Hrbek: 126 wRC+, .371 wOBA, 293 home runs, 37.6 WAR.
Ordonez: 126 wRC+, .375 wOBA, 294 home runs, 36.7 WAR.
Based on that snapshot, “better” is basically a flip of coin. That said, Ordonez did play in 101 more games, record 407 more hits, and his .309 batting average is 27 points higher than Hrbek’s. Ordonez also won a batting title, while Hrbek — a member of the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame — never led his league in an offensive category. Just how much weight those things carry is a matter of opinion.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Undefeated, Richard Harris wrote about MLB efforts to grow the sport among African Americans.
At Fish Stripes, Nicole Cahill wrote about how the Marlins are expanding a wellness program that supports student-athletes in Miami-Dade county.
At Forbes, Maury Brown shared how one club’s financial details give clues to how fast MLB is bouncing back from the pandemic.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The longest World Series drought belongs to the Cleveland Guardians/Indians, whose last title was in 1948. Next longest among teams that have won a World Series are the Pittsburgh Pirates (1979), and Baltimore Orioles (1983). Six current franchises have never captured the top prize: the Colorado Rockies, the San Diego Padres, the Seattle Mariners, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Milwaukee Brewers/Seattle Pilots, and the Texas Rangers/Washington Senators.
Ox Eckhardt got cups of coffee with the Boston Braves in 1932 and with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1936. He had 10 hits in 52 at bats, giving him a .192 batting average at the big-league level. At the minor-league level, Eckhardt had 2,589 hits and a .367 batting average. Combined, his batting average was .366, the highest in professional baseball history, just ahead of Ike Boone and Ty Cobb (both at .363).
There were 11,111 home runs hit at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. (per Dan Holmes at Vintage Detroit.)
The Boston Braves traded Rogers Hornsby to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for five players and $200,000 on today’s date in 1928. Hornsby was coming off a season where he slashed .387/.498/.632; he had a 196 wRC+ and 9.0 WAR.
Players born on today’s date include Edward Sylvester Nolan, an 1880s legend known within baseball lore as “The Only Nolan.” The famously-eccentric Trenton, Ontario native played for five teams, including the Philadelphia Quakers and the Wilmington Quicksteps.
Skyrocket Smith and Reddy Mack comprised the right side of the infield for the American Association’s Louisville Colonels in 1888. Chicken Wolf was one of the outfielders, while the pitching staff included Ice Box Chamberlain and Toad Ramsey.