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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Rob Johnson takes Aaron Miles to the next level

The epitome of the scrappy utilityman, Aaron Miles played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2006 to 2008 and again in 2010. A second baseman by trade, he appeared all over the diamond – at every position on the field with the exception of first base and catcher. The light-hitter even once appeared on Tony La Russa’s lineup card as the Cards’ designated hitter.

Also serving as La Russa’s emergency pitcher, the right-hander appeared on the mound in five games, covering five innings of mop-up duty over the final three of his four St. Louis seasons. Miles allowed two earned runs for a respectable career ERA of 3.60.

Yet even the now-retired Miles has been trumped by now former catcher Rob Johnson. The latter has signed a minor league contract with San Diego as a right-handed pitcher, reports Baseball America.

Now 31 years of age, the Montana native has been bouncing back and forth between the minors and majors for a full decade. Johnson has 829 career plate appearances in the bigs and another 2,299 in the minors. Having joined the Cardinals system one year ago, Johnson spent the first half of the 2013 season at Triple-A Memphis.

His call to St. Louis – which included his addition to the 40-man roster – occurred in early July due to Yadier Molina’s sore knee. Johnson took the spot of released infielder Ty Wigginton.

In addition to appearing in 20 games behind the plate as the Cards’ third-string backstop, Johnson was called upon to pitch the team’s final out in a 13-4 blowout loss to the Dodgers at Busch Stadium on August 7. On his fourth offering, he retired pitcher Paco Rodriguez on a strikeout looking.

It was Star Wars Night at the ballpark, but the game became memorable for different reasons – none of them good.

In a major scare, Cards starter Shelby Miller was struck on the elbow by a line drive and left the game for X-rays after throwing just two pitches. In a relief role, losing pitcher Jake Westbrook continued his messy slide toward his exit from the game by getting pounded for nine earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. Johnson had to come in with two runners on base to rescue Keith Butler, after the rookie had allowed the final four Dodgers to come home.

Miller returned to the rotation after getting a couple of extra days off. From then on, his strong rookie season results began to erode a bit – to the point he was surprisingly absent during most of the post-season. Westbrook made three more appearances, with similar bad results, before being given a farewell lap with a one-inning start in game 162. He retired from baseball this winter. Following his August 7 outing, Butler was shipped back to Memphis in favor of another rookie, Carlos Martinez. Butler’s final image of his first major league season was being pulled for a catcher.

It wasn’t Johnson’s initial mound appearance, though his ERA remains perfect. He made his pitching debut with an entire scoreless inning for the 2012 New York Mets, an outing in which he collected his first strikeout.

Unfortunately for Johnson, the Cardinals apparently wanted to use his roster spot on a younger player. He was taken off the 40-man and became a free agent once again in early November.

In 2014, Johnson will be trying to pitch every day in an unusual effort to prolong his career. Somewhere, Miles, still just 37 years of age, may be digging his glove out of the closet in response.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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9 Responses to “Rob Johnson takes Aaron Miles to the next level”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    Johnson has spent little time in the majors the past two seasons. He may have decided that the opportunity to continue to catch in the majors is ebbing away, so there is little downside in trying something radically new, relief pitching.
    Moving from catcher to the mound often happens earlier, at the A rung in the minor league ladder, as with Jason Motte, Dave Carpenter, and Robert Stock. The great closer Troy Percival is another who made a move to the mound. Johnson is following a path that has been blazed, successfully, by others. It is a position shift that can work out. He might need to begin at the A level or AA, but lets hope it works out for Johnson too.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Like I said, Johnson spent half of last season – three months – in the majors. He spent most of 2012 with the Mets, too, though the last two months he was on the DL due to a torn thumb ligament so his at-bats appear low.

      Your broader point that time is probably running out seems reasonable.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        2013 had to be a bit disappointing for Johnson. He might have been on the roster, but got little chance to play, though Molina had a sore knee and Cruz had a cracked bone. Then the Cards elevated chubby Audry Perez and kept him on the 40 man roster over Johnson, despite a very tough season in terms of swinging lumber. That could have been a wakeup call to try something new, before its too late. Johnson caught for the Padres in 2011, so may have friends willing to give him a shot at an unusual late career position change.

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      Nice article. However I’m sure you linked it because you think it shows some evidence of a conspiracy or money laundering – neither of which me or any other commoner sees. I was very surprised how little their insurance costs were. At that price it would seem they are only insuring the current year and not the out years on multi-year contracts.

    • blingboy says:

      I thought the info about insuring contracts was interesting. The Cards spend $4-5 Million per year on premiums.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        I was very surprised how little their insurance costs were. At that price it would seem they are only insuring the current year and not the out years on multi-year contracts.

        Wouldn’t have been hard to insure Jamie………..or Chris C in there second years right? 90 day and 180 day deductibles? I have nothing to say at this point……………… And only a few teams grab those prices?………..and the flexibility it offers………..lets just let it go………

        • blingboy says:

          It does mean that decisions on when to pull the plug on a guy’s season are not necessarily just about baseball.

          • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

            Bill was pressured by that “B” Marggie, into making a statement on a number of issues…… And in truth, he did not lie……… but he also didn’t tell the whole truth……..or answer the entire question……… he could easily be impeached on statements concerning a number of points……you’re right about that………… tip of the iceberg…….. He has revealed much more in that article than his “business structure”. I choose not to comment on these issues……I will say though that Bill has some serious balls.

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