Interesting story here from Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca about Dan Johnson, who has been on the fringes of the major leagues for the past few seasons as a position player/designated hitter. Now 35 years old, he has begun to think about his baseball mortality. Part of his plan to stick around? The knuckleball.
Yes, Johnson is trying to develop a knuckleball in order to be a “two-way” player. This isn’t exactly a new thing for him. Johnson has messed around with the pitch for years, but he began thinking about it more seriously in 2013 when he was with the Yankees organization and threw it regularly during side sessions. He was in spring training with the Blue Jays (and R.A. Dickey) this year, but a cracked fingernail prevented him from throwing his knuckleball until later in the year. Still, he continues to work on the pitch and believes that it could help his case for a roster spot.
“My hope was to ultimately become a guy that could do both,” he said. “Essentially if you needed a bat or position player I could do that, and if you’ve got a game that’s maybe getting out of hand, instead of burning up a whole bullpen, being able to go out and throw 70 or 80 pitches and suck up innings.”
“I don’t want to do it as a sideshow. If I’m going to do it, I want to do it right.”
Johnson is a free agent right now, but here’s hoping he gets a spring training invite somewhere and a real chance to show what he can do with the knuckler. This could be a lot of fun.
José Bautista hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2018 but the 39-year-old isn’t done playing just yet. Last month, we learned via a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan that Bautista is hoping to come back as a two-way player. He spent the winter working out as a pitcher.
Bautista had also been working with former Blue Jays teammate Marcus Stroman. Back in January, Stroman tweeted, “My bro @JoeyBats19 is nasty on the mound. We been working working. All jokes aside, this man can pitch in a big league bullpen. I’ll put my word on it!”
In March, Passan added some details about Bautista, writing, “I’ve seen video of Jose Bautista throwing a bullpen session. Couldn’t tell the velocity, but one source said he can run his fastball up to 94. His slider had legitimate tilt — threw a short one and a bigger bender. @STR0 said in January he could pitch in a big league bullpen.” Stroman retweeted it, adding, “Facts!”
Stroman reiterated his feelings on Tuesday. He tweeted, “Since y’all thought I wasn’t being serious when I said it the first time…my bro @JoeyBats19could EASILY pitch in a big league bullpen. Easily. Sinker, slider, and changeup are MLB ready!” Stroman attached a video of Bautista throwing a slider, in which one can hear Stroman calling the pitch “nasty.”
Stroman attached another video of Bautista throwing a glove-side sinker:
Replying to a fan, Stroman said Bautista’s body “is in better shape than 90-95% of the league.”
I am not a scout and won’t pretend to be one after watching two low-resolution videos. And Stroman’s hype is likely partially one friend attempting to uplift another. That being said, I’ve seen much worse from position players attempting to pitch. It’s a long shot, especially given his age, that Bautista will ever pitch in the majors, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get an opportunity to pitch in front of major league scouts.