The Cubs announced to reporters that right-hander Pierce Johnson, who was designated for assignment last week, has been claimed off waivers by the Giants. The Giants have transferred first baseman Brandon Belt to the 60-day DL to clear a spot for Johnson, per Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area (Twitter link), which definitively puts an end to Belt’s 2017 season.
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 if the Giants carry him on the 40-man roster through the offseason, they’ll have the luxury of sending him to the minors during or after Spring Training without first needing to expose him to waivers.