Pierce Johnson: 6-3, 170 pounds
Righthanded starting pitcher, drafted by the Cubs in first round (43rd selection) in 2012
Projected 2014 Landing Spot: Double-A Tennessee
Rule 5 Eligible 2015
Possible Cubs Comp: Mike Bielecki
Pierce Johnson is, whether people know it or not, one of the more contentious players in the pipeline. He isn't brash. He is as traditional of a pitcher as you'll find, with a three pitch repertoire (curve and change). He seems to work hard at his craft, and has a lethal pickoff move. So what makes him contentious?
He was acquired as compensation for Aramis Ramirez turning down arbitration. One side of Cubs fandom wanted to re-sign Ramirez. Obviously, keeping A-Ram would have kept the Cubs more competitive over the last two years. The Cubs could have retained him, and his 5.6 WAR in 2012 was far better than anything the Cubs have flashed there since.
However, when blowing up a roster, some quality has to be purged, and usually, the results aren't pretty. If 2012 was more important than 2015, you keep Ramirez. The Cubs might have added five more wins. Heck, maybe eight. And the losses wouldn't have been so unbearable. I get the argument. I really do.
Then, at some point, you either trade Ramirez when someone else is able to steal his job, or a proper trade becomes available. Or, maybe, he sticks around for four more years, and helps with the next competitive team.
As it was, for better and worse, Ramirez was considered expendable. 2015 was considered more important than 2012, by all appearances. And a fading Ramirez, whose WAR was under 1 last season, was flipped into Pierce Johnson.
In a year where a few prospect-niks said Johnson's goal for the year should be to stay healthy, he did that. He pitched well (WHIP under 1.3 at Low-A and High-A), and logged just under 120 innings. If healthy, he will get the ball every five days in Tennessee, for the Double-A Smokies.
What I like to see with Johnson is his pickoff numbers. Eventually, the word will get around that you might not want to take an aggressive lead off of him. I remember in a game in High-A last year where he picked off the same guy twice -- by the third inning. He will release the ball at any point in his stretch, and chuck it to first right on the bag. Despite not having Keith Hernandez at first during any of his starts, he is error-free. So his pick-off tosses aren't sailing down the right-field line.
Whether he sticks as a starter (MOR, probably, as his curve tends to disappear on the hitter) or is a closer type, he should provide far more value over the next five years for the team than Ramirez would have. And as ugly as the last few years have been, they have been far less important than the next few will be. And hopefully, far more forgettable.