Simply Baseball Notebook: Cover Stories

Anderson & Johnson

November 2003

Anderson & Johnson hope to Jump Start their Careers

It wasn't supposed to be this way, not for Matt Anderson and Adam Johnson. Anderson, the top pick in the 1997 draft, was supposed to be an All Star closer by now. Johnson, the second overall selection in the 2000 draft, was supposed to be a mainstay in the Twins rotation. Instead of big league success in 2003, both players spent the majority of the season in minor leagues.


Matt Anderson: #1 overall in 1997.

"It was a good experience," Anderson said of his four-month stint at Triple A Toledo. "There are a lot of good players down there, it's still good baseball -- it was a lot of fun. You have to stay focused, if you don't, you'll get your ass handed to you. I played hard and learned some stuff."

Back in 2001, Anderson appeared to be on the brink of stardom. The lanky right-hander, with a flame thrower arm and herky-jerky motion, led the Tigers with 22 saves after taking over the closer's role mid season. Then it all went wrong.

After a slow start in 2002, Anderson suffered a torn muscle under his pitching arm in late April. He was put on the disabled list and didn't return to action until September. During what was supposed to be his breakout season, Anderson didn't record a single save.

At the start of the 2003 season, Anderson's trademark velocity had failed to return. Throughout his career, the former Rice standout consistently broke the 100-mph mark on the radar gun. Suddenly, he was topping out in the more pedestrian 93-94 mph range.

Unable to simply blow his fastball by hitters, Anderson struggled mightily and was sent to Toledo on May 7. It was there that he said he began to re-learn what it meant to be a pitcher. "I was kind of a thrower my first few years," the 27-year-old explained. "I would just go out there and throw it as hard as I could -- a hundred miles an hour. I still think I have a lot of that left in my arm, but I am just trying to take it back a step. I am trying to hit my spots a little better -- mix it up a little bit, but I know if I need a big strike out, I can go back to the power pitch."

Would it then be safe to say that his amazing velocity has been both a blessing and a curse? "You could definitely say that," he confirmed. "I never really thought that way until I got down to the basics this year and kind of started all over from scratch. I think it is going to work out well. I've been inconsistent the last four or five years, and I've really worked hard on being more consistent -- I think it's going to come."

Throughout all of the injuries and setbacks, the free-spirited Anderson remained positive. "I just tried to look at the bigger picture," he commented.  "It's a day by day thing -- you want to have a long career and work hard and look at the big picture. You want to stay in the big leagues as long as you can. You just stay positive and keep on trucking."

Anderson believes he is finally ready to realize his enormous potential and is anxious to begin the 2004 season. "I am going to go home and take a few weeks off (following the 2003 season) to spend with my family, and then I am going to get going again. I am going to start running, throwing, and get down (to Spring Training) early this year. I've learned a lot about maintaining my body, keeping my arm strong, and getting going next year at a 100%."

It may be now or never for Anderson, and he knows it, "I am going to treat (2004) like a make or break year."


Adam Johnson: #2 overall in 2000.

On July 16, 2001 Adam Johnson made his major league debut for the Minnesota Twins in St. Louis. At that time, the second pick in the 2000 draft had spent less than a full season in the minor leagues and was regarded as one of the game's top pitching prospects. Fast forward to September 2003, and Johnson is finally back in the big leagues after two inconsistent minor league seasons.

"It's great to be back," Johnson said of his return to the majors. "I've been working toward that, so it's nice to get up here and get a chance to play again."

After getting a taste of major league life in 2001, Johnson entered Spring Training in 2002 believing he would go north with the big club. It didn't happen. The right-hander was plagued by nagging injuries throughout the exhibition season, and was given his reassignment papers to minor league camp by manager Ron Gardenhire.

The volatile Johnson didn't agree with the manager's decision and tore up the papers, making a scene that received a fair amount of media coverage back in Minnesota. He followed that up with a miserable start to the season at Triple A Edmonton, causing some in the organization to openly speculate about his future.

Just when many were about to give up on him, the young hurler rebounded and finished the season as the Trappers' leader in wins and strikeouts. Despite the strong finish, Johnson did not receive a September call up in 2002.  Although Twins GM Terry Ryan denied it, it is widely believed that the snub was a result of his Spring Training tantrum.

"It was a little disappointing (not getting a September call up in 2002)," the 24-year-old explained. "I thought I had a good run, the last 16 starts I had, I won 13 of them, but they were in a pennant race and didn't want to change the chemistry. It was nothing to get too stressed out about."

In 2003, Johnson entered Spring Training with renewed hopes of earning a place on the 25-man roster, but hernia surgery slowed him and Gardenhire again issued him his reassignment papers. This time however, the former Cal State Fullerton star took the demotion quietly.

"I had the hernia surgery, it took some time to get my body back up to strength," he explained. "When I had shoulder problems after the surgery, I was sent back to the GCL (Gulf Coast League -- rookie ball) to get back up to speed."

After another slow start at Triple A Rochester (the Twins changed Triple A affiliates prior to the 2003 season), Johnson was removed from the starting rotation and put in the bullpen. It was there that he began to turn his season around. Eventually, Johnson pitched his way back into the Red Wing's rotation and finished the season strongly.

"I was just trying too hard to get back to the big leagues -- I just overworked it," Johnson said of his struggles.

Looking back, Johnson says that he has grown up a lot since he began his pro career in 2000. "I am more patient," he explained. "When you first sign, you always want to go right to the big leagues and prove yourself. Now it's to the point where they know what you have, and it's up to you to go out and do it everyday."

Johnson also admitted that he fell victim to unrealistic expectations because of his lofty draft status. Now, over three years later, he isn't sure where he fits into the organization's plans. "I don't know (where I fit in)," he conceded. "It all depends on what moves happen, what starters and relievers they have, and what roles they have."

In the off season, Johnson plans on playing winter ball in Venezuela and then concentrating on getting in shape and staying healthy. He knows the pressure is not only on him, but also on the Twins' organization. "My options are up," he said. "I've burned all of those, so now it's to the point where, not only do I have to do my job, but they have to make a decision on me -- that's a good thing."


The 2004 season will be crucial in the careers of Matt Anderson and Adam Johnson. Once they were two of the game's top prospects and seemed destined for stardom. Now, after years of underachieving, each feels that their enormous potential will finally translate into results on the field.  In the end, their future in baseball will depend on it.

-David Zingler

Anderson's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com

Johnson's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com


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