Spotlight On: Erik Johnson

Throughout the offseason, I’ll have a weekly blog highlighting one of Charlotte’s players from the 2015 campaign. The Knights finished at 74-70 in the International League South Division, which was tied for third with the Durham Bulls. On-the-field and at-the-gates, the 2015 season was a successful one in Uptown Charlotte.

The 2015 season was a memorable one for Charlotte Knights RHP Erik Johnson.

Photo credit: Buren Foster

Photo credit: Buren Foster

A year after he was tabbed by Baseball America as the second-best prospect in Chicago’s system, Johnson began the 2015 ready to pitch. And that’s just what he did — and he did it well.

  • He was a 2015 International League All-Star.
  • He started the Triple-A All-Star Game for the IL squad and tossed two scoreless innings.
  • He was a 2015 International League Post-Season All-Star
  • He was named as the IL Most Valuable Pitcher

Let’s take an in-depth look back at Johnson’s memorable 2015 campaign:

His 2015 season began with his first appearance on April 13 out of the Charlotte bullpen. He tossed three shutout innings and earned a win that day over the Durham Bulls. He later worked his way into Charlotte’s rotation — where he became the ace.

Johnson made his first start of the 2015 season on April 18 against the Gwinnett Braves and was solid over five innings en route to his second win of the season. He was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA at that point. He won one more time in April and finished the first month of the season with a 3-1 record and a 2.04 ERA (four games).

The calendar turned to May and Johnson hit his first — and only rough patch of the season. He made six starts for the Knights and compiled a 1-3 record with a 5.29 ERA. His only win came on May 20 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO).

As the days heated up, so did Johnson. His June was one for the ages and he was awarded for his solid pitching.

On June 22, Johnson was named as the International League’s Pitcher of the Week for the period of June 15-21 after he  struck-out 20 batters over 14 scoreless innings in two starts over that week.

The 25-year-old began the week on Tuesday, June 16 by throwing six scoreless innings against the Pawtucket Red Sox from BB&T Ballpark. On that day, he earned his fifth win of the 2015 campaign and struck-out a career game-high 11 batters. The Mountain View, CA native followed up that impressive performance on Sunday, June 21 with eight scoreless innings and nine strikeouts for his sixth win of the season. He finished the week 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA (14.0 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 20 SO). At that point in the season, Johnson improved to 6-5 with a 3.00 ERA and he was the IL leader in strikeouts with 88.

Photo credit: Buren Foster

Photo credit: Buren Foster

Overall in June, he posted a 3-1 record with a 1.03 ERA in five starts. He struck-out 41 batters over 35.0 innings pitched and allowed just 23 hits. He didn’t allow an earned run over 29-consecutive innings pitched (June 5-June 26). Then came July.

He didn’t allow a run in the month — including his three Knights starts (15.0 IP) and his start in the 2015 Triple-A All-Star Game (2.0 IP).

A member of Chicago’s 40-man roster, Johnson along with three of his teammates, represented the Charlotte Knights as 2015 International League All-Stars. He started the Triple-A All-Star Game, which took place on July 15 in Omaha, NE, and became just the fourth Knights pitcher in franchise history elected to start the Triple-A All-Star Game. After tossing two scoreless innings for the IL squad that night, Johnson joined Julian Tavarez (1994), Charlie Haeger (2006), and Carlos Torres (2010) as the only Knights to start the game.

Johnson wrapped up his final month of the season with Charlotte in August and posted a 3-2 record with a 2.20 ERA in five starts. He won his final three starts with the Knights (8/13-8/25) — allowing just three runs over that 21.0 inning span. His final start of the season came on August 25 at BB&T Ballpark against the Gwinnett Braves. He threw eight solid innings for the victory.

In 23 games (22 starts) with the Charlotte Knights in 2015, Johnson posted an 11-8 record with a 2.37 ERA. His 11 wins finished in a tie for third place, four behind IL leader Toru Murata. His minuscule 2.37 ERA led the IL. He also led the league in strikeouts (136), strikeouts per nine innings (9.23 ratio), and WHIP (1.12).

Originally selected in the second round of the 2011 draft out of the University of California-Berkeley, Johnson appeared in 132.2 innings overall with the Knights in 2015 and allowed 40 runs (35 earned) total.

Photo credit: Buren Foster

Photo credit: Buren Foster

For his outstanding season, Johnson was named as the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher on September 1st and the starting pitcher on the International League’s 2015 Postseason All-Star Team. Just hours later, he was promoted to Chicago to finish the season with the Chicago White Sox.

Johnson became the first Knights starting pitcher elected to the IL Postseason All-Star Team since Carlos Torres in 2009. He also became Charlotte’s first IL Most Valuable Pitcher since Heath Phillips in 2006.

Overall, Johnson’s 2015 numbers were some of the best by a Knights starter in franchise history. His 2.37 ERA ranks second in Knights single-season history, while his 136 strikeouts rank seventh in Knights single-season history.

Johnson also moved up the all-time ranks in Knights franchise history in a number of categories. With 20 career Knights wins, Johnson is now tied for ninth with Mike Porzio. His 256 strikeouts are now seventh all-time in franchise history.

You can continue to follow Johnson this month as he is now pitching for the Chicago White Sox. He continues to shine, too. He won his 2015 White Sox season debut on September 6 after tossing six solid innings over the Kansas City Royals. As of September 14, he is 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in two starts for the White Sox this season.

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