Jay Johnson is the type of baseball player everyone wants to see do well. The young left-handed pitcher from Sussex Corner, New Brunswick, Canada suffered an injury to his left elbow that required Tommy John surgery when he was just 13 years old. By 2006 another surgery was needed on his left elbow to clean out the loose chips and spurs that remained from the previous procedure. The result of that surgery made it difficult for him to straighten his left arm and he was diagnosed with something called “bent-elbow syndrome”. So, in 2008 at the age of 18 he had his third surgery on his left elbow. That would have been enough for any normal teenager to give up his baseball career, but Jay Johnson pushed forward.
The results of the third surgery were immediately noticeable as his velocity increased by nearly 10 mph. In 2009 he pitched for the Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs where his coach was a veteran baseball man named Blair Kubicek. Under the guidance of Kubicek (more on him later), Jay Johnson was drafted in June, 2009 by the Baltimore Orioles in the 25th round of the Major League draft. Unfortunately, the Baltimore physicians didn’t like the looks of his elbow and he went unsigned. Strike One. He then enrolled at Texas Tech University where he pitched in 2010. Again, in June, 2010 he was selected in the 26th Round of the draft, this time by the Toronto Blue Jays. An MRI was performed on his elbow as part of his physical and it was discovered he had bone chips. Based on those results, the Blue Jays didn’t sign him to a contract. Strike Two. Not ready to give up, Jay flew to Arizona at his own expense for a workout with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners were impressed with his ability but again their doctors were not with his elbow. Strike Three.
That’s when his former coach Blair Kubicek re-entered the picture. Over his lengthy baseball career, Kubicek developed working relationships with a number of major league scouts and executives. One of those executives was former Orioles, Blue Jays and Phillies General Manager Pat Gillick. Kubicek told Gillick the story of Jay Johnson and said he was one of the three best players he ever coached. Going on his word, Pat Gillick arranged a tryout for Johnson with the Phillies. Since Johnson was still in Arizona after his tryout with the Mariners, it was arranged for Phillies scout Brad Holland in Arizona to see him pitch. What Holland witnessed was a kid with a 92-93 mph fastball with a delivery that would make him tough on left handed hitters. Next, it was off to Clearwater where he would be pitching in front of top Phillies brass, including Dallas Green, Benny Looper and Chuck Lamar. After the tryout he was told the Phillies would be offering him a contract. Johnson immediately called his former coach back in Canada to tell him the good news. He was finally going to get a chance to pitch for a professional baseball team.
Jay Johnson made his professional debut in 2011, pitching for the Lakewood BlueClaws. His record was 1-5 but his ERA was a solid 2.94 and he also registered 5 Saves. He recorded 49 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched and allowed 41 hits. His control was a problem as he walked 35 batters in his 49 innings. Over the entire season he did not allow a home run. In 2012 he spent most of the year with Reading after pitching briefly in the Gulf Coast League and with Clearwater in the Florida State League. With the Reading Phillies he pitched in 28 games and had a record of 2-1 with a rather high ERA of 5.02. He allowed 33 hits and 18 walks in 28.2 innings of work while striking out 30 batters. 15 of the 28 outs he recorded against left-handed hitters were via the strikeout. He showed enough potential as a left handed reliever for the Phillies to choose him as one of seven Phillies prospects to participate in the Arizona Fall League this year.
The 2012 Arizona Fall League begins their season on Tuesday, October 9th. In addition to Johnson, Phillies prospects Cody Asche (3B), Tommy Joseph (C), Zach Collier (OF) and pitchers Tyler Knigge, Kyle Simon, and Colby Shreve will be on the Peoria Javalinas roster under the watchful eye of 2012 Reading manager Dusty Wathan. If all goes well he will likely begin the 2013 season back with Reading, but a promotion to the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs is not out of the question. Even with the possibility of a 4th elbow surgery to clean out the remaining bone chips looming in his future Jay Johnson is proving that there is still life after strike three.
Acknowledgment to article by Bob Elliott at http://www.canadianbaseballnetwork.com for information in this post.