Monday, August 22, 2016

Welcome to the Blue, Dan Johnson!

The Dodgers have just made an under-the-radar signing this afternoon.  Per a press release from the independent league ballclub St. Paul Saints, the Dodgers have purchased the contract of former Cardinals first baseman, ten-year major league veteran and recently converted pitcher Dan Johnson:
Dan Johnson has worked hard to reinvent himself this season as a knuckleball pitcher.  The former Major League hitter has made great strides this season, in a short amount of time, as a pitcher with the St. Paul Saints.  He will now get the chance to get back to the Major League’s as a hurler.  His contract was purchased by the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and he is headed to Double-A Tulsa.

The 37-year-old Johnson has been an incredible two-way player for the Saints.  On the mound he was 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts.  In 40.0 innings he has walked 20 and struck out 27 while opponents are hitting just .231 against him.  Over three straight starts from July 28-August 13 Johnson allowed just one run over 18.2 innings pitched.

Johnson also played first base and was a designated hitter for the Saints providing some much needed pop in the middle of the lineup following the injury to first baseman Angelo Songco.  Johnson hit .277 with six home runs and 15 RBI in 18 games as a hitter.  In 65 at bats he scored 12 runs, had a .373 on base percentage and a .554 slugging percentage.

Johnson had been tinkering with the knuckleball for the last few years and went to camp with the Tampa Bay Rays this year as a pitcher, the same team he hit a famous tying home run in Game 162 in 2011.  After going to camp with the Rays he signed with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League on April 8, 2016.  He pitched five games (four starts) and went 0-2 with a 7.50 ERA.  In 18.0 innings pitched he walked 15 and struck out 14 while opponents hit .242 against him.  The Bluefish traded him to the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League, on June 13, for a player to be named later, but was only used as a position player.  As a position player between the two teams he hit .222 with seven home runs and 34 RBI in 58 games.
Holy Moly!  He throws a knuckleball!  Per Joel Badzinski at Twin Cities Pioneer Press:
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I could make it,” Johnson said. “But this is the trial for myself to know if can do it or not. As a knuckle-baller, you can pitch forever.”
Apparently, he passed this first test with flying colors.  Now, he will be facing prospects in Double-A.  He said this of the pitch:
“The best way to describe it is that I have control until it comes out of my hand.”
I think it's been far too long since the Dodgers have sent out an knuckleballer to the mound. The last time was Charlie Haeger from 2009 to 2010.  Prior to him was Dennis Springer from 2001 to 2002.  In fact, Springer gave up home run #73 to Barry Bonds in 2001 on a 43-mph knuckler on October 7th.

In celebration of Johnson's arrival to franchise I made the above two fantasy cards for him.  For the card on the left I used a photograph taken by Betsy Bissen/St. Paul Saints and the 1990 Score Baseball card design.  The card on the right uses a screeengrab from an ABC5-KSTP telecast and an pic by Phil Hossack/Winnipeg Free Press on an 1983 Topps Baseball card design.

On a side note, the Saint Paul Saints was formerly an Dodgers minor league affiliate club from 1944 to 1960.  Notable former Dodgers to play there include Norm Larker, Joe Pignatano, Stan Williams, Gene Mauch, Roger Craig, Larry Sherry, Ed Roebuck, Ron Perranoski, Dick Williams Don Zimmer, Sandy Amoros, Clem Labine, Joe Black, Dan Bankhead, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Walter Alston (as manager).

Check out Dan Johnson's career stats via Baseball-Reference below:

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