Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz
It was exactly one year ago when Patrick Johnson was the toast of the American Association. He was a brilliant 15-1 in his second season with Sioux City to lead the Explorers to a 75-25 season, just a shade below the modern day Independent Baseball record. The righthander had only tasted modest success in three seasons in the Colorado farm system after a 25-8 career at North Carolina.
Johnson was the lone starting pitcher on the postseason all-star team, flashing a 2.08 earned run average and almost a strikeout per inning. Pittsburgh picked him up in December after he also had shown well in winter league play, then he was immediately taken away by the Miami Marlins in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft.
Though somewhat undersized for a pitcher (5-foot-10), the North Carolina native, who had not pitched above Class A, was so intriguing to the Marlins they gave him brief exposure in a trio of major league exhibition games.
Johnson spent the season in Class AA at Jacksonville where he finished brilliantly by striking out 11 Southern League hitters in six innings in the season finale in which he allowed but three hits as the Suns blanked Mobile. He was a strong 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA in his last 10 appearances as the 28-year-old finished at 8-7 with a 3.37 ERA. He allowed less than a hit per inning and struck out 113 in 128.1 innings for the season, starting exclusively late in the campaign.
More spring training opportunities may well come along and one would think he has an excellent chance of moving up to the Marlins’ top farm club in New Orleans.
Another Hurler Who Throws With Either Arm
Matt Sergey is not as high up in the minor leagues as Patrick Johnson, but this righthander, who spent every day in his first three seasons after college (Broward and Campbell) and until July 4 of this year in Independent leagues, has made a splash since entering the Oakland Athletics farm system with their California League team in Stockton.
The 27-year-old was unbeaten in seven decisions between Laredo and Stockton, and added to an already intriguing resume, which included a perfect game, by revealing he has the ability to pitch with either arm, a rarity only Pat Venditte of Seattle has mastered in recent times.
Sergey was 2-0 with a 0.00 earned run average after joining Laredo late last season, then picked up by going 4-0 with a miniscule 0.81 ERA and well over a strikeout per inning (56 in 44.0) in seven starts this season for the defending champion Lemurs before Oakland obtained his contract. As if pitching the first perfect game in the Frontier League’s more than 20 seasons for Washington, PA two summers ago was not enough, Sergey added to the aura around him when he talked to MiLB.com about starting to throw left-handed when bored because of a high school injury and that he shags that way during batting practice every day.
“I don’t even really know that the A’s are aware of it to the extent of how much I do it,” he said in the interview. “I do know that on my first day, (Stockton manager Rick Magnante) walked over and watched me and said, ‘Are we aware that you do that?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.'”
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and his book, “The Passion of Baseball”, launches October 5 .