The Cubs announced on Wednesday that they’ve designated right-hander Pierce Johnson for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for fellow righty Jen-Ho Tseng, whose contract has been selected from Triple-A Iowa.
Now 26 years of age, Johnson once ranked as one of the Cubs’ very best pitching prospects and was considered the game’s No. 87 overall prospect by Baseball America in the 2013-14 offseason. The former No. 43 overall pick turned in a very strong 2.74 ERA with 9.4 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 across two A-ball levels in 2013 in order to earn that distinction, but his star has faded since that time.
Johnson posted similarly strong ERA marks in both 2014 and 2015, but he struggled with control in ’14 and saw his strikeout rate drop drastically in ’15. The Cubs shifted him to the bullpen for much of the 2016 season in Triple-A Iowa, but Johnson responded with a 6.14 ERA and 6.1 BB/9 through 63 innings that year (albeit with a gaudy 10.7 K/9 rate).
The 2017 season was better, as Johnson pitched almost exclusively in a relief role and posted improvements in ERA (4.34 ERA), strikeout rate (12.3 K/9) and walk rate (4.5 BB/9). He has an option remaining beyond the 2017 season, so he could very well draw interest from other clubs in need of pitching depth that can afford to exercise more patience with the once touted right-hander than the Cubs can afford to at this juncture.
The 22-year-old Tseng, meanwhile, currently ranks as the Cubs’ 13th-best prospect in the estimation of Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis of MLB.com. Chicago signed the Taiwanese righty to a $1.625MM bonus as an 18-year-old amateur back in 2013, and he’s enjoyed success at each stop as he’s risen through their minor league ranks. Tseng split the 2017 campaign between Double-A and Triple-A, logging a combined 2.54 ERA (including a 1.80 ERA in 55 Triple-A innings). He’s averaged a combined 7.6 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 this season, and his ground-ball rate spiked from 39.4 percent in 90 1/3 Double-A frames to 53.1 percent in his 55 frames in Iowa.