San Diego Padres: Three sleeper candidates to make the roster

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(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /
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San Diego Padres, Pierce Johnson
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Pierce Johnson

Pierce Johnson might be the most intriguing bullpen arm that, if the season were to start today, he wouldn’t make the team. So why is he a sleeper to make it? The former first-round pick of the 2012 MLB Draft was highly-regarded coming up through the Chicago Cubs system as a starter.

Baseball America ranked him as the 87th best prospect in baseball before the 2014 season, but he struggled to perform well in a starting rotation at the Triple-A level. Beginning in 2016, Johnson was utilized more from the bullpen but was designated for assignment by the Cubs, claimed off waivers by the San Francisco Giants, and then was out of Major League Baseball after the 2018 season.

He signed with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League before the 2019 season and posted a 1.38 ERA in 58 appearances while striking out 91 batters in 58.2 innings (.801 WHIP). He’s hoping for similar results as former Padres prospect Miles Mikolas and Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.

Johnson appears to have figured out what works best for him during his time over in Japan. He told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he spent more time attacking the zone rather than nibbling, which led to a majority of his issues.

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Thus far, Johnson has appeared in two games in Spring Training, tossed 2.0 innings while striking out three batters and allowing a .143 average.